Why do we love to make handbags so much? Well, a handbag doesn't have to fit anyone, they make the perfect personalised gift, they're quick to make and a great way to increase your sewing skills. In a world of mass production a handmade bag is a great way to express your own creativity and personal style.
I focus on designing fun, fashionable handbags that everyone can make from a beginner to an advanced sewist. There are many ways to sew something but I always choose the simplest and most straight forward way because we all sew for fun and I want everyone to enjoy their experience when working with my patterns.
Drawing on my industry experience and many years of designing and teaching bag making, these are my top 10 tips:
1: INVEST IN QUALITY CUTTING TOOLS
A rotary cutter, ruler and cutting mat for cutting straight edge pieces, medium size scissors for cutting out curved pattern pieces and smaller sharp pointed scissors for nicking in and clipping seam allowances.
2: CHOOSING FABRIC
When making fabric bags on your domestic sewing machine, it's best to work with medium weight fabrics, this is because there are times when you will have quite a few layers of fabric and interfacing in the one seam which can become quite thick. If you started with a thick fabric, just imagine how difficult those even thicker seams would be to sew.
I design all of my bag patterns to suit 100% cotton patchwork and quilting fabric as this type of fabric has the best range of patterns and prints, from modern to traditional designs. Sometimes in a range of patchwork fabrics, one or two of them will be available in a furnishing or home décor weight, these fabrics are slightly heavier and are perfect for bag making, I must say that this type of fabric is my favourite for bag making as it's a little more durable and hard wearing for bags. I also like to coordinate these fabrics with linen and linen and cotton blends in plains and prints.
You could also try experimenting with cotton velveteen, corduroy, medium weight denim, duk cloth or faux suede.
For ease of sewing, I like to use medium weight 100% cotton patchwork and quilting fabric for the lining, choose a plain or a print that co-ordinates with the bag exterior. Lighter lining fabrics are best as it's easier to see your belongings inside the bag.
3. IF YOU WANT TO WASH YOUR FINISHED BAG
You may want to wash your fabric bag in the future so pre-wash your fabrics and trims to remove any shrinkage. There is no need to wash your interfacing first. Your bag can then be hand-washed and spun in the washing machine and hung out to dry on a breezy sunny day.
4. READ THROUGH ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS FIRST
Yes, I know that this is boring and you're excited to get started but knowing what is ahead will make each step make more sense.
5: A GREAT PROJECT STARTS WITH GREAT CUTTING
Cut out your pattern pieces accurately to begin with.
Make sure that your pieces marked with FOLD are pinned exactly o the FOLD.
6: CUT ON THE GRAIN LINE AS INDICATED ON THE PATTERN PIECE
Don't be tempted to turn your pattern piece in the other direction to save fabric. The pattern designer has put a grain line on the pattern so that the grain line will run parallel with the selvedge for a reason.
Here's a quick lesson on the grain:
The across ways grain (weft) runs across the fabric from selvedge to selvedge, if you were to pull on the fabric in this direction, you will notice that it has a slight amount of give or stretch.
The down ways grain (warp) runs down the fabric, parallel to the selvedge, if you were to pull on the fabric in this direction you will notice that it is quite solid and has no stretch or give at all.
The bias grain runs on a 45 degree angle to the weft and warp and has stretch. This is why piping and bias are cut on the bias grain as the stretch enables the fabric to be sewn around curves.
7: MARKING POSITION POINTS AND NOTCHES
To mark position points, simply poke a small hole in your pattern with a sharp tool like a tailors awl or sharp pointed scissors then mark through the hole of the pattern, onto the fabric with a fabric marker.
To mark notches, make tiny snips in the edge of your fabric that are only 3 mm (1/8") deep with the tip of your scissors. (NO DEEPER)
8: TAKE THE CORRECT SEAM ALLOWANCE AS STATED IN THE PATTERN
For my patterns I use 6 mm ( 1/4") seam allowance on straps pockets and tabs but to construct the bag body I use a larger seam allowance of 1 cm (3/8") to give the bag strength.
Taking the correct seam allowance will make all of the pieces fit together neatly.
9: SEW WITH THE FIRMER OR INTERFACED PIECED ON TOP
Interfacing is attached to fabric to give it body, make it firm and prevent it from stretching, so it makes sense that if you were sewing 2 pieces of fabric together, one that is interfaced and one that is not, to sew with the firmer fabric on top, this will keep the underneath fabric in shape and prevent it from stretching.
10: USE AN OPEN ENDED JACKET ZIPPER THAT IS A BIT LONGER THAN REQUIRED
It's thicker then a dress zipper, it looks great and is more durable in a bag
(If possible, avoid the chunky zippers as they can be difficult to sew through)
A bag starts out flat so you can sew the zipper into opposite sides of the bag then separate completely so that you can go about making the bag without the restriction of it being joined together at one end.
If the open end zipper isn't trimmed and sewn into a seam then finish it off with a zipper tab.
Zippers come in basic colours so try to choose your fabric and zipper at the same time.
My final tip is to take your time and enjoy the journey of creating your one off original handmade bag!