It's finished! After three weeks of thinking, sewing, and (mostly) procrastinating about this bag, it's finally finished! To celebrate the arrival of the very first Bag of My Own Design, I've photographed its first day out on the town, as we searched for signs of spring in Bryant Park, Manhattan, New York.
(Disclaimer: This should in no way be construed as a tutorial. I have no idea what I'm doing, I just made it up as I went along. But read on to see what I did.)
Found some spring! Insta-spring in pots - by the end of the afternoon, these will all be planted and the once-barren park will be full of flowers (to go with the just-rolled-out grass). That's spring city-style: no waiting.
Well, it didn't take long for me to get bored with making beginners' projects from books and decide to strike out on my own. Having made a grand total of one purse, plus several zipper pouches and a couple of wristlets, I decided I was ready to tackle my own bag design. I was inspired by a design for a pouch-style bag in
Sew Simple Quick Stuff to Sew Magazine - a box bottom, pleated sides, and a fabric sleeve to cover the raw edges around the top. But I wanted handles on my bag - who wants to carry around a giant pouch? So I got the idea to expand upon their sleeve with something stronger... maybe something stiff to contrast with the soft pouchy bottom... maybe something angled to play off the angles of the pleats...
First I picked some fabrics in nice, bright spring greens and blues. Then I had to find some interfacing. The perfect excuse to experiment! In one of the stores near my office in the Garment District of Manhattan, I found various interfacings - a stiffish one, a puffy one like batting but with fusible glue on one side, and something called fusible hair canvas. Hmm, sounds interesting.
I used the hair canvas on the outer fabric and another, muuuuuch less expensive fusible interfacing on the inner fabric. This is my first experience using fusible interfacing, and it makes the fabric feel so yummy and nice. Both these interfacings are woven, which presents a dilemma - presumably they should be cut on the grain, like the fabric; but you can't really iron them out to make them straight and even, since they have glue on one side. So I just approximated, hoping it wouldn't matter too much (and it doesn't seem to). On the bright side, I've heard some interfacings can crinkle, but these don't at all, they just act like fabric. Oh, and hair canvas is very expensive, and also comes in narrow widths - so narrow, I had to adjust my pattern to be shorter, which I decided I liked better anyway.
Making the box bottom and the pleats was easy, and I love them - I want to make zillions of boxed, pleated bags now. Of course, that part was easy because I was following the pattern in the magazine. Then I had to make my top part. Hmm... I ended up squishing the bottom half of the bag against some newsprint and tracing along the top edge, then basing my pattern on that, so I could get the size right and make sure my top section would enclose all the fabric of the bottom section (which was bowed in the middle due to the pleats).
I cut my inner and outer fabric pieces and sewed them together using the same technique I would use to make a lined bag - sew up the sides, insert the outer fabric inside the inner fabric, stitch around the top (leaving it open where I wanted my straps to go), turn and press. This created a sort of fabric sleeve for the top. I added a magnetic snap to the inside using Step 5 of this tutorial. Then I cut two pieces of my stiff interfacing and two pieces of the fusible batting to fit inside my fabric sleeve, which required some fiddling around, inserting, retrimming, and so forth.
This whole assembly process took the longest time, mostly because I didn't know how to do it, so I kept putting it off. I needed to bring together my fabric sleeve, my innards to make it stiff and thick, and my straps. After a couple of tries, I ended up marking where the straps should go on the interfacing, making a sandwich of interfacing, strap, and batting, and sewing the straps in place. Then I inserted that whole thing into the fabric sleeve, pulling my straps up through the openings I left in my fabric, which helped me get the interfacing up in there properly. Then I ironed it (remember I used fusible batting) so it wouldn't wiggle around. Then I topstitched that whole thing in two rows. And lastly, I folded the raw edges at the bottom up around their respective interfacings.
Then came more procrastination time while I screwed up my courage for the hardest step: joining the top and bottom sections of my bag. And oh, was it hard...
So now I had my two sections, and it was a simple matter of sewing them together. But nothing's ever that simple, is it? Especially when you're making it up as you go along and have absolutely no idea what you're doing. I pulled my fabric-and-interfacing sleeve down over the top edge of my bag bottom, so the raw edges of the bottom section were sandwiched between the two sides of my top section. Hmm, sounds like a lot of layers, doesn't it? Let's see, we have my stripey outside fabric (two layers! it's folded), a layer of batting, the blue bag fabric, a layer of hair canvas, some interfacing, my stripey bag lining fabric, a layer of stiff interfacing, and finally, the inside fabric for the top section (two layers! it's folded). Sensing the potential for any problems for a beginning seamstress like myself? Oh, and let's not forget, the bag is pleated, so in some places all that inside part is doubled. Hoo boy.
Well, what can I say? I did the best I could. I tried several times to sew this all together with a 1/4 inch or so allowance, but my machine just could not handle it - it was making crazy, wonky lines of tiny, tiny stitches because the fabric couldn't advance properly. (At the very end, I realized it might have helped if I'd raised the presser foot, but it was too late to deal with that.) Those microscopic stitches are not easy to rip out, let me tell you! Finally, I ended up just edgestitching, because that way I missed out on the thickest parts - the batting and the stiff interfacing. The edgestitching was pretty wonky too, but what can ya do? I also sewed up the sides to hopefully make it stronger so the two halves don't tear apart.
After all that, I still had to attach my straps to my O-rings. Thank goodness I'd made them ahead of time, and only had to attach them! Cuz I was pretty tired by this time, let me tell ya. I'd used my batting stuff inside the straps to make them cushy (the skin on my shoulders is so fragile that carrying a heavy bag sometimes leaves lines of broken blood vessels on them - not a good look). So they were nice and thick. At this point, my machine made a horrible noise - and stopped sewing.
After a few moments of panic and near-tears, I figured out that my presser foot (I use a walking foot) had come loose with all the tugging and fighting with thick bag sandwiches I'd been doing, and it had nudged forward so that the needle came down onto the metal plate instead of just in front of it. So I readjusted that and sewed my straps on, not caring much by this time how nice (or in this case, not so nice) they came out.
The O-rings are the best part - I kept changing my mind and going back for a different set, so now I have like 4 extra sets of O-rings kicking around the apartment. But I definitely picked the best ones.
Finished! But sadly, my initial reaction was one of disappointment. My stitching looked so bad and my bag was too floppy, even with all that interfacing. I was very sad. But I decided I'd use my new bag anyway, if only out of sheer cussedness (as we say in Maine). I spent three weeks making this bag and I'm gonna use it, dammit! Hence my photo adventure.
But I have to say, now that it's been a couple of days, I kind of almost like it. I don't really notice the horrible stitching anymore. And it's very springlike with the colors, and it holds a ton of stuff - check this out:
I just wish I'd made the top part stiffer somehow - as you can see, it's puffy but not stiff at all, and I pictured it really staying flat all the time. I think I should have used another layer of the stiff interfacing instead of the batting, which probably would have made it less thick and therefore less difficult to sew as well. And between those - something else. I don't know what. I've heard of bag bottoms and template plastic, but I've had a hard time finding them, and don't know how I would insert them. Can I use the same technique I used this time around? Can you sew right through them? I don't know.
Part of me wants to rip off the top and remake it the way I wanted it, so that I can really like my bag and not be mildly disappointed with it. But the other part thinks I should just take the lessons I've learned and move on to my next bag design, for which I already have an idea germinating in my head...
(And yet another part thinks I should make a few more projects with instructions from someone who actually knows what they're doing. Nahhhh...)