A New Tote for a New Niece

When I found my half-sister, Debbie, back in March of 2016, when she was 80 and I was 65, I was welcomed with open arms by her entire extended family. I flew to northern Arizona six weeks later to meet Debbie face-to-face, and also got to meet both her daughters. Cindy, who is about seven years younger than I, lives with her mom. Cathy, about five years younger than Cindy, who lived in Orange County, CA, at that time, drove to Arizona that Saturday to spend Mother’s Day with her mom and sister. A year later, Cathy’s daughter and her husband moved to Medina, OH, for his work, and they graciously invited my partner and myself to join them for holiday gatherings. Another year later I met Cindy’s daughter, who had just returned from her missionary posting in Kosovo. Somewhere in there I was able to meet Debbie’s son, Bill, and his wife, who live near Plymouth, MA. But the rest of the family just became Facebook acquaintances because of the distance. One person with whom I have formed a close online friendship is Cindy’s daughter-in-law, Renée, who lives with her family outside of Waco, TX, on acreage where they garden and keep chickens and an enormous pig named Petunia. (Don’t you love.love.love that name?!!!!)

And so begins the story of the new tote for the new niece.

Renée’s “sad old bag”

In mid-January, Renée posted a sad picture on Facebook, saying “My lined canvas tote bag is nearly dead and I dread finding a new one I love nearly as much.” I responded that I know a bag maker. 😊 That response spurred a conversation about what she likes and needs in a bag. She nearly always wears black (who does that sound like?); she wants the bag to indicate her support of the LBGTQ community, so some rainbows would be nice; she needs a zippered pocket for prescription bottles; she likes to clip her keys into the bag so she can find them easily; and so on. We settled on an exterior zippered pocket, an interior zippered pocket, and a slip pocket (a small, flat, rectangular pocket into which one can slip cards or bills or other small items) and an approximate size. Renée and her four kids and her husband (my half-sister’s grandson) arrived in Ohio over the weekend and I drove the 75 minutes from Youngstown to Medina yesterday to deliver the bag. The exterior fabric is a sturdy black waxed cotton. The interior is “Rainbow Graffiti Stripe” from the Buzzin’ Around collection by Kim Schaefer for Andover Fabrics, treated with OdiCoat to make it waterproof. When the bag gets dirty, she only need wipe up spills and stains with a damp cloth. The hardware is all black. Zippers are rainbow stripe by-the-yard zippers. Pockets are all lined with something bright. 🥰 Don’t you love this bag?

<Techie discussion on>
The dimensions of Renée’s “sad old bag” were 16″ wide (left to right), 12″ tall (bottom to top), and 4″ deep (front to back). She wanted something a couple of inches larger in all dimensions. My objective was 18″ tall, 14″ wide, and 4″ deep. There are two ways to get depth in a bag. One is to have a front and back, and then sides and a bottom that match the depth measurement you want. Say I have a front that’s 10″ tall and 10″ wide and I want it to be 2″ deep. I would either make a bottom that’s 2″ wide and 10″ long. Then I would have two side panels that were 10″ tall and 2″ wide. The side panels would be sewn to the front and back panels along the 10″ side. The bottom panel would be sewn to the front and back on the 10″ sides and to the side panel along the 2″ sides. (Note: seam allowances would have to be added to all dimensions before cutting out the fabric. Another way to achieve the same result is to have two side/bottom panels that measure 15″ tall and 2″ wide. You would join those two panels along one 2″ seam allowance, give you a 2″ wide strip that’s 30″ long. You would then sew the strip to the left side, bottom side, and right side of the front and back panels. After all that sewing, you’ll have a “box” that’s 10″ tall and 10″ wide, with a depth of 2″.

The other way, which I prefer, but is harder to visualize, is “boxing” the bottom of the bag. This is accomplished most easily by cutting a square out of the two bottom corners of the flat front and back pieces. The sides and bottom are sewn, ignoring those cut-out squares. Then the corners are opened up, making the bottom seam and the side seam “kiss.” Sew diagonally across the bag, joining those two raw edges, which now form a straight line with the kissing seams in the center. When that is done and you turn the bag right-side out, you have a “box” similar to the results of the sewing in the previous paragraph. To me, it’s an easier method. When you sew the side panels to the front and bottom panels of the first method, you cannot sew all the way to the end of the seam. If you have a ½” seam allowance, you sew the ½” seam down to exactly half an inch from the end of the seam. Then you remove the bag from the sewing machine and refold your pieces, sewing the bottom from ½” in from one side to ½” in from the opposite side. And then repeat the refolding and sewing up the side from ½” in to the end of the seam at the top edge. It’s very tricky, where the boxing method just has you sew a diagonal seam across the bottom corners.
<Techie discussion off>

Anyway, I visualized the bag, I drew the amateurish illustration, and I cut the fabric. I inserted the exterior zippered pouch, using a zipper-by-the-yard for the first time. And when I clipped the sides and bottom together to see how it looked, I realized my math was faulty and it was nowhere near as tall as Renée wanted the finished bag to be. So I cut two strips of the rainbow fabric about 1½” wide and as long as the front and back pieces were wide. I cut two more strips of the waxed cotton several inches tall and the same width as the front and back pieces and sandwiched and seamed them together at the top raw edge, leaving a cool little strip of the rainbow stripe protruding from that joining seam. I love the look!

Now, about the interior. Another goal for this bag was that it be very sturdy and easy to clean. I treated this beautiful rainbow stripe fabric with Odicoat, which is a waterproofing solution. The instructions are to apply three coats (north/south; east/west; and diagonal) to the fabric, allowing at least an hour of drying time between each coat, then let it sit and cure for at least 24 hours before heat-setting with an iron, placing a non-stick pressing cloth on the fabric before ironing. (Here’s a video from Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness on the use of Odicoat.) Odicoat gives the fabric a shiny, plastic-feeling finish, which is waterproof. It’s ideal for cosmetic cases, or for bags that need to be easy to clean because they’re going to get lots and lots of use.

I made each of the pockets out of bright scraps of fabric. One was a turquoise batik with lighter turquoise dots; another was a purple and violet dotted ombré, so that the back of the pocket is darker than the front of the pocket; and the slip pocket is lined with a bright lime solid. It’s like there’s a little secret surprise in each pocket.

The side of the interior had a D-ring protruding about midway down one seam. As do I, Renée has a swivel hook on her key ring. She can hook her keys to the inside of the bag when she gets out of the car, and be able to easily find them without digging when her shopping trip is finished.

The adjustable crossbody strap is about 54″ long and can be shortened to about 30″ if she just wants to sling it over her shoulder. It’s a nylon webbing rather than fabric, again aiming for longevity and strength.

So what were the final dimensions? When standing up on its flat bottom, it’s 15″ tall and 8″ wide at the bottom. The boxed corners are about 5&half”, making the bottom surface a 5&half” x 8″ rectangle. If you were to lay the empty bag down on its side on a flat surface and measure it, it would be almost 18″ tall. The important part is the volume—it can hold 660 in3 or about .38 ft3.

My greatest happiness about this bag is that I was able to gather up all I’ve learned about bagmaking over the past two+ years and put it all together in a bag that came out of my brain. To me, that’s something!

[Note: When I put the bag in my studio box to take photos, every spot of dust or thread on that waxed cotton shone! If you want to see what it looks like in normal light, notice the final photo above, that Jas took in our bedroom with the bag positioned near the north-facing window. Not as bad as the well-lighted photos!]

[Enquiring Minds Want to Know: I almost forgot to give you the details.
Exterior fabric: 9.4 oz Waxed Cotton in Black – link as of 3/9/2020
Lining fabric: Stripe Rainbow from the Buzzin Around collection by Kim Schaefer for Andover – link as of 3/9/20
Zipper Pull Charm: I love these “Handcrafted” charms from Emmaline Bags in British Columbia. Much of my hardware also comes from Emmaline.
Odicoat waterproofing: Available on Amazon.
Zippers-by-the-yard: Zippers in black with rainbow coil. Gunmetal rectangular drop pull.]

Handmade Fabric, Handmade Bag

The first person Jas introduced me to after we met was one of his closest friends, a woman who shibori-dyed fabrics and made beautiful contemporary art quilts from those fabrics. Her creations are pretty stunning, as you can see if you check out her portfolio.

She and her husband invited us to dinner at their beautiful home this past Saturday night. She graciously told us just to bring wine, as she knows that I do not pride myself in my cooking. So I knew I had to make something.

A number of years ago, when cleaning out her studio to move from one type of dyeing to another, and gave me several containers of her scraps. Oh My Gosh! These are exquisite fabrics. I dip into this precious stash whenever a group of our friends are getting together and I want to give them little bags. So that’s exactly what I did on Friday morning. I made the best kind of hostest gift—something I made from something you made.

I came across a new-to-me bag pattern on Instagram recently that I wanted to try. It’s Svetlana Sotak’s Sotak Handmade line and is called the Elliott Pouch. You can find this pattern, along with all her beautiful bag patterns here in her Etsy shop. See more Insta photos of Elliott Pouches that other sewists have made.

I finished the bag at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. We were set to leave for their home at 6:15 that evening, and I had a ton of practicing to do throughout the day. So I wanted to quickly throw the pictures up on Instagram, but I didn’t want her to happen across the photo.

So I texted her to please not go on Instagram during the day, unless she wanted to spoil her surprise. She knows the calibre of sewing I do, and couldn’t wait to see the bag she knew she would be receiving. When we walked into her home that night, tissue-wrapped bag in my hand, she wrapped me in a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you.” I knew what she had done, and it made me smile.

She loved the bag. And took it with her on Sunday to a meeting of an artists’ group she belongs to in Cleveland. She texted me that evening, “I took [my beautiful bag] to my group today and they absolutely drooled!”

Happy me!

Mermaids Aren’t Just For Swimming

What happens when you want a new bag to take along on your beach vacation and then you run out of time? You get a cute bag to add to the stock in your Etsy shop.

Sara Lawson’s Sew Sweetness Paladin Pouch is a brilliant little multi-purpose bag. It comes in three sizes, Small (7” long x 5” tall x 2½” deep), Medium (9” long x 6½” tall x 3” deep), and Large (10½” long x 8” tall x 3½” deep). Sizes Medium and Large have an interior zippered pocket. All of them have a single exterior zipper that encloses all three pockets. You can purchase an instructional video where you can sew along with Sara as she constructs the bag—for this bag, I highly recommend watching the video. There are some tricks to making this bag that are not intuitive. And when you join Sara’s user group on Facebook, you’ll find likeminded “Bag Ladies” and “Bag Dudes” who are constantly supporting you and also finding ways to hack the patterns to make the bags their own.

Several people have asked me how to make the strap for this bag. Watch Sara’s video on adding a crossbody strap to a bag, then leave me a comment if you don’t understand. I’ll try to help you out.

The middle section has a little faux pocket cleverly sewn into place. Perfect for my 6½” by 3¼” (with case) iPhone 7 Plus.

[Optional: I like to add fusible fleece to at least pieces 4 and 5 as I plan to carry my phone in the middle slip pocket and I want it protected. You can add fleece to all four exterior pieces (1, 4, 5, 8) if you want, but 4 and 5 or the crucial ones, in my opinion. I used Pellon 987F Fusible Fleece, and cut it ¼” smaller on all four sides to decrease the bulk when sewing those seams. I fuse the Shape Flex to the wrong sides of the exterior pieces, then center the fusible fleece over the Shape Flex and fuse the fleece in place, using a teflon pressing cloth.]

As I stated above, the Paladin Pouch pattern has a zipper that spans all the pockets, and Sara’s design has that zipper extend out past the edge of the bag by a couple of inches, making it extremely easy to access all the goodies you’ve stashed into the pockets. I didn’t think someone carrying the bag crossbody would want that zipper hanging out there. (Getting dirty, in my mind ….) So I decided to put zipper tabs on both ends of the zipper, which would be only as long as the bag was wide. The zipper was then sewn into place such that both ends were enclosed. (Again, if you’re stumped, leave me a comment and I’ll help you out.)

Topstitching by hand

Further, Sara’s design specifies that you don’t top stitch the edges of the bag openings until you’ve finished the bag. This works fine when you’ve got a long zipper that opens wide to say “Ah!” But when you’ve got parts of the bag openings hidden underneath the zipper, you’re out of luck. As I was scratching my head to figure out how to resolve this problem I had created, I remembered a little bag I made for my then-little granddaughter. The bag was the Coraline Wristlet bag, from Swoon Patterns. I printed this pattern at 80%, giving me a great little bag for a five-year-old sweetheart. But it was too small for topstitching, so I topstitched the edges by hand with perle cotton, and love the outcome. I decided to give these mermaids the same treatment, and again loved it.

Is there a moral to this story? I guess it’s that there’s a solution to every problem you can create. And that every problem you solve makes you a more creative sewist. And that makes me happy.

Exterior: Hello Lucky, Mermaids in Navy for Robert Kaufman Fabrics. Lining: Sioma, Wild Collection by Leah Duncan for Cloud 9 Fabrics. Hardware from Emmaline Bags. Zippers from Zipit on Etsy.

By Request Only

Baby Boy (okay, so he’s 45!) has been traveling much more in his life lately, including several trips overseas. Years ago I made zippered “Pet Mesh” bags to hold the charging cords for their various electronic devices. A couple of weeks ago, after his Christmas/New Years/Wife’s Birthday trip to Austria and Italy, Dear Son #2 asked for a new bag that had greater depth for holding his international converters. And a new bag was born, at his request. There’s no greater compliment than your own child asking for a new bag!!

The pattern I use for such bags is the “Zip It” bag pattern from Nancy Ota. The Sew Thankful retail website carries the bag pattern, along with various colors of Phifer Pet Mesh. I buy my pet mesh in black from Lowe’s or Home Depot—I believe it’s cheaper, and I really like the basic black.

So the only trick to tell you about with this bag is how to give it more depth. I’ve been sewing a lot of bags lately, mostly designed by Sara Lawson for her Sew Sweetness pattern line. Sara is an absolute genius both in designing bags and in writing pattern instructions. She also makes videos for most, if not all, of her designs. So there’s no way you can fail at making one of her bags. And, the more different patterns you try, the more you learn about bagmaking. So figuring out how to give my son the depth he wanted in the bag was just a matter of reviewing couple of Sara’s patterns and “hacking” Nancy Ota’s Zip It pattern.

A boxed corner would give my son exactly what he wanted, I was sure. I sewed the pattern as written, then zig-zagged the inside raw edges, instead of binding. Leaving the bag wrongside out, after zig-zagging, I flatted out each bottom corner, forming a triangle of the corner with the side seam centered, and sewed a diagonal seam across, about an inch or so down from the corner. It looked sorta like this /_\ , the bottom line being the seam. When those two seams were done, I cut off the excess, leaving about ¼” raw edge on the outside of the seam. I then zig-zagged that raw edge, and turned the bag rightside out.

My son said it’s perfect! (He’s a good boy. 😉)
-The fabric is from the very bottom of my stash, purchased at Josephine’s in Portland around 2000 or earlier. It’s from the DeLeon Design Group.
-My Pipher Pet Mesh was purchased on a roll from Lowe’s or Home Depot in the screening aisle. Also see the Sew Thankful site (link above) if you want colored pet mesh.
-The zipper is from Zip It on Etsy. Great vendor!! Wide variety of zippers, great prices, fast shipping.
-The pull charm is from JoAnn’s in the jewelry aisle.
-The hardware to hook the charm to the zipper pull is from Emmaline Bags in British Columbia. She has the very best selection of bag hardware. It costs me a smidge more and shipping takes a few days longer, but I absolutely love her stock. I frequently use her “Handmade” zipper pull charms.

(I’m going to put this here, just in case you want a piece of that fabric – different colorway.)

A Last Minute Make

Two weeks after returning from vacation and spending lots of time editing photos and writing my vacation travelogue, I just realized I never wrote a post about the last bag I made before vacation.
. . .
I actually started the fabric preparation to make another Sew Sweetness Paladin bag (that pattern I love to hate). As I started fusing the first exterior piece to the interfacing, I realized, to my horror, that the fabric was actually directional and I had cut it upside down. (Look at the black eyeglasses frames at the bottom of the first picture. Imagine those glasses at the top of the bag, upside down. Nope. I cannot let that happen.)

I didn’t want a bag with upside-down print, and I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good piece of fabric. I began racking my brain for the best solution. The bottom of the side pattern piece has the corners cut out—that’s the part you sew diagonally to get the boxed corners. (See the picture with this paragraph.)

<Sidebar On> Paladin has boxed corners—meaning that after you sew the sides and the bottom, you pinch the corners flat and sew a diagonal seam across the corner, giving the bag some depth instead of having a flat bag. The traditional way to give a bag depth so it can easily hold more items is to make a separate piece for the bottom and the sides. Boxing the bottom gives you the depth without the extra work. Look at the two frog bag pictures and you can see the diagonal boxing seam. Notice how nicely the bag stands up because of that seam. (This is the Bellevue Pouch from Sew Sweetness, with the construction blogged here. The Bellevue has much deeper boxed corners than the Palladin. But a box is a box. 😉)
<Sidebar Off>

So how could I save this fabric and get the print right-side up? I started by cutting off the bottom. Then I again had a simple rectangle that could become a slightly smaller bag.

I dug into my brain, remembering the first zippered pouch I made years ago, and replicated that. Sandwich the zipper between the exterior fabric and the lining fabric. Sew the first side of the zipper, then the other side. Sew up the sides, remembering to leave an opening to turn the bag (and remembering to open the zipper before sewing the sides). Voila! A bag is made.

A dear friend of my son’s has serendipitously become a cyber friend of mine. This woman loves bright linings in bags so that one can actually find things in the bottom of a bag. When I posted a photo of the finished bag on Instagram, she immediately said “I want that!” So I packed it up and ran to the post office. This sweet small bag was flying to California as I was flying to Mexico.

Sometimes the stars align.

The details:
Exterior fabric: The Wordplay collection by Sarah Fielke for Windham Fabrics. It’s been in my stash for probably four years, but there’s some—as of this writing—at the designer’s website and some on Etsy. 9You could also try FabShopHop’s excellent fabric search feature to find it. There are several color-coordinated word prints in the same Windham collection that I like a lot. (See here.) This print comes in a black background, a gray background, and a black and white print. Windham also makes 108” wide quilt backing in the same print.
Lining fabric: A hand-dyed cotton in a green I love. I picked it up somewhere in my long history of hoarding fabrics. Love that dye job!
Zipper: YKK #4.5 purse zipper from Zipit on Etsy. She ships quickly from Wisconsin. She also stocks the charm on the interior zipper pull in a variety of prints.
Pattern: I highly recommend Sara Lawson’s Sew Sweetness bag patterns. The Paladin Pouch pattern can be purchased with a companion video. Buy it! I predict that if you try to make the Paladin without the video assistance, you will throw it in the trash can before finishing it. The Bellevue Pouch is part of the 12-pattern Minikins Season 1 bundle. The $80 price tag is very reasonable when you see the bags that comprise the bundle. All easy and quick makes with a minimum of hardware to purchase.

The bag’s new owner texted me yesterday to say how much she loves the bag. She said the gray background has the ability to appear as different colors in different lights. She and her partner refer to it as the “magic bag” because of this color morphing. That made me smile.