When I was in Barnes & Noble last week, I picked up a copy of Modern Patchwork magazine from the newsstand. As I flipped through it, I noticed a number of cool projects that would make great gifts.
After focusing solely on garment construction for the past month, I wanted to take a break and try a new project from this magazine. I had picked up some Paris fabric a couple of months ago in celebration of my impending vacation, and decided to use that for a tote bag. I chose the Reversible Quilted Tote by Tia Curtis. The Paris piece I had purchased was only enough for the main body of the tote, with a little left over. I started digging through my stash to see what else I could use.
The first big find was a piece of mauve cotton that I painted 10 years ago while living in Tucson. After painting it, I laid the wet fabric out on the stones in my yard to set. One of the unique properties of fabric paint is that it rises to the highest point while drying. So everywhere the fabric was resting on the rugged edge of a rock, a dark spot appears on the fabric. I love this unique finish! This piece would be the inside of the bag. (Yes, the pattern says reversible, but I intend to use it always with the Paris side out.)
For the inside pocket, I found a piece of quilting cotton in a butterscotch shade that I thought would blend well. I constructed the pocket piece. (Sandwich the fabric with batting, stitch around the edges, turn inside out and press.) To bring out more of the mauve/rust/copper shades from the Paris print, I pulled out one of my Marcy Tilton silkscreens. This one is multiple expressions of praise, gratitude, love and compassion. Digging through my stash of paints (yes, I have multiple stashes of arts/crafts supplies!), I found a bottle of Jacquard Lumiere Super Copper. I angled the silkscreen almost 45° and made two passes across the finished pocket piece, one on the left and one on the right. I hung it in the basement near the dehumidifier to dry for several hours and washed the silkscreen, setting it upright to dry. Later in the afternoon, I ironed the first passes I had done to heatset them, then taped waxed paper over them. I angled the silkscreen 45° in the opposite direction and drew the paint over the unpainted portions of the pocket. When I pulled off the taped waxed paper, I realized I had left some areas with no paint—obvious (to me) “white space.” I grabbed a very dull pencil sitting nearby, and started tapping it onto the paint residue inside the bottle lid and then randomly touching it onto the pocket.
Y’know, I have spent years and years trying to learn these techniques from Marcy Tilton and Diane Ericson, but suddenly silkscreening and fabric painting have fallen into place for me. I totally and completely love this pocket!
My friend and fellow singer Amanda had pinned a French Braid quilt block on Pinterest. I thought this block would be great for the side panels and found a piece of cotton hand-dye in complementary colors in my stash. All of the different shades in the French braid on the pictures are cut from one piece of fabric. Pretty good, huh?
Once the side panels were completed, I stitched along the piecing seams, and like how it looks. (Before quilting on the left; After quilting on the right.)
The construction of the bag is fairly straightforward: fold the nylon belting and topstitch to make the handles; sew the outside of the bag and the side panels and quilt; make the outside and inside pockets, and then sew everything together. Attach an elastic strip for button loop, sew on a vintage black button, and I’m done.
But I don’t love it. I finished the work at about 10:45 and raced upstairs, where the Jazzman was ¾ asleep in bed. He opened his eyes and looked at me and I said, “I don’t like it.” Waaah. He wisely replied, “Someone will,” and closed his eyes again.
Let me tell you first the things I don’t like about this pattern. First and most importantly, the seam allowance is not stated. Should I sew ¼”, ½”, some other random fraction? The “Sewing Basics” section of the magazine says to use ¼” seams when piecing, but that’s piecing, not construction. Next, the inside pocket is constructed exactly the same width as the body. And the side and body are topstitched together—including the edge of the pocket!!! That means that for the side seam on the back, one is forced to stitch over (four layers for fabric plus batting—wrong sides together over a piece of batting and then turned right side out so fabric/fabric/seam allowance/seam allowance/batting—times three—back/pocket/side). That’s a whole damned lot of fabric and batting to be stitching over. Fifteen layers!!! Trying to make that side piece fit in place correctly is a job for supersewer, or is a pattern begging to be redesigned!! And because of the way one is setting that side panel into place, the stitching must stop at the proper point, ¼” or ⅜” or ½”, whatever you decided your seam allowance should be. I studied all the math in the pattern and decided that side inset seam allowance must be ⅜”. I should have marked the ⅜” point on the side piece, but I didn’t. It didn’t fit in perfectly, and I’m a big fan of perfection. Argh.
One more thing the pattern didn’t allow for was a directional fabric. By that, I mean that there’s a definite top and bottom to the design. The instructions said to cut two pieces of fabric 17″x27″ for the body. But that results in either the front or the back having the design upside-down. I added in a seam allowance for the center bottom and cut two pieces 17″x14″ for the directional fabric on the outside. A novice sewist wouldn’t know to make that adjustment.
If I were redesigning, I think I would make the outer bag and the inner bag separately, using a temporary spray adhesive to hold the batting in place on the inner bag. Then I would stitch the two bags together around the top, leaving an opening for turning. (I’d probably leave the opening in the side of one of the bags and turn the whole thing right-side out through that opening. Leaving the opening in the top would make it too obvious on the finished product.) (With a directional fabric, the opening could be left in the bottom seam.)
The only other thing I would change would be to use a much heavier-weight stabilizer in the bottom of the bag. I bought the wrong product. I will go back and get a heavier weight, then make a sleeve of the inside fabric for it and either hand-sew it to the bottom of the bag, or attach Velcro dots to the four corners of the bottom insert and the bottom to hold it in place.
If you stop and realize how long it took you to read this post, you’ll correctly figure out that this bag took a lotta lotta lotta work. To put that much work into something, one wants to love it when the work is complete. As I stated before, I don’t love this bag. But maybe when I get the new floor in it and tuck my laptop or iPad into the pocket, I will.
What do I love about the bag? I love each of the individual components. I love that it will remind me of this, probably my tenth or twelfth visit to Paris, for years to come. I love the piecing on the side. I love using my hand-painted fabric inside and remembering the sunny Tucson day when I painted that fabric and laid it out on my desert-landscaped yard to dry. I love-love-love the silkscreening and how well that turned out. Probably in a week or two, I’ll have to reread this post to remember that at one point I didn’t like this bag. I hope so.
And what am I grateful for? That my Husqvarna Viking Designer 1 has a built-in stipple quilting stitch, so I could put the fabric sandwich in place, push the start button, and just guide the fabric while the machine did all the hard quilting work for me. That definitely saved my shoulders!
Hmmmm. On second thought, maybe I do like the bag. I think I’ll keep it!
I left the bag on my dresser last night after photographing it. It was the first thing I saw as I opened my eyes this morning, and I instantly realized that my make-two-separate-bags-and-attach solution won’t work. Part of what gives this bag its stability is all the quilting. Quilting “inside the box”, if you will, after the bag is constructed will be headaches of difficulty. So it’s back to the drawing board as far as how to make the side panels fit easily.
I made a similar unlined mesh bag a couple of years ago. The side panels were sewn in the way these are, and then double-fold bias tape was stitched over the seam to enclose those rough seam allowances. But you’re already sewing through fifteen layers—this would be another four layers on top of those fifteen.
Hmmmm. Keep thinking ….