Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Tale of Two Bags

I expect I'm pretty weird in this, but I really like tote bags.  I  often  need to carry things from one place to another or to keep things together.   Some of the places we shop have started charging for plastic bags, while others only encourage the use of reuseable bags.  Whilst I have a use for many plastic bags, our collection is now under control only because we started taking fabric bags that allowed us to bring home fewer plastic bags from our shopping trips. 

I have a book just about how to make various tote bags and I hadn't really done much with it.  When my friend, Vivien, gave me her old curtains, after I'd made curtains and pillow covers for the motorhome, I still had enough fabric to do some other stuff.

For one, the guest bed has no dust ruffle but there are boxes of fabric and ribbons stashed under it.  When I knew Sarah was going to stay over on Thanksgiving, I pulled out these wide strips and tucked them under the mattress to hide all the junk underneath.  The room instantly looked tidier!

That was a short term use, however.  From the time I had that fabric I knew that Vivien was going to have something for her birthday made from it.  Her birthday comes just after Christmas, so I often end up making something similar for her as I have done for others' Christmas gifts.  In looking at that fabric I couldn't help but think it would make a nice bag for a man as well, so I started with making a bag for my Uncle Pat.

The book's instructions show two ways of attaching handles without giving any pros or cons for either.  I'd already sewn, wrapped and shipped Pat's bag to him when I realised the limitations of my strap placement.  Straps going across the bag opening limit the width the bag will open to the length of the straps and may interfere with placing things inside the bag.  Sorry about that, Pat.  I promise I'll do better next time. 

Armed with this understanding, I decided to do Vivien's differently and even splashed out and put an inside pocket onto the lining.  Both bags were lined with the curtain lining fabric, which seemed only appropriate to me.  Once I'd made the bag a couple of times, it got easier.  The bag itself, with a squared, flat bottom, is pretty easy compared with constructing and placing the straps and those are even easier for me than figuring out where to put the inside pocket!  I didn't try the pocket on the other bags I made.

Still, they are pretty straightforward:  take a piece of fabric about 24 x 36 inches and fold lengthwise.  Stitch up the two sides with right side of the fabric together.  To square the bottom corners, line up a side seam with the bottom crease and sew across the bottom of the resulting triangular-shaped fold.  Ironing after each step makes for a better finish, even with bags.  The further in on the seam one stitches, the wider the bottom of the bag, in fact twice as wide as the distance.  For example, if the stitch line is 2 inches from the corner, the width of the bottom will be 4 inches.  Repeat all this for the lining if there is one (and I think lined bags are not only stronger, they look much nicer). 

For the outside, turn right side out, turn the top down a 1/2 inch or sew and stitch.  Insert the lining.  I lined up the corners on each end and pinned them, also in the middle on each side, so I could see where the lining would line up at the top.  I trimmed it just below the hemmed top.  Then fold down the top of the outside of the bag again, about an inch, making sure the top edge of the lining is caught in that second fold.  Stitch around the bottom edge of the new hem.   If a pocket is to be added, the instructions say to stitch a patch pocket to the lining while it is still flat.  I would try stitching it after the lining has been sewn, but of course before it is attached to the bag.

The straps should between 3 and 4 inches wide and can vary from 20 inches to longer.  One way is to sew a tube twice the desired width (plus seam allowance) and turn.  Instead I cut the straps and stitched the side under, then cut lining fabric the same width, turned one end under and stitched it to the underside of the strap.  I trimmed the remaining fabric leaving enough to turn under the other side of the lining and stitch it to the other edge of the strap.  I thought lining the straps also added strength and a more finished look. 

A strap can be positioned with both ends on one side of the bag (probably preferable) or with the ends across the bag (for a longer, narrower bag that needn't open very wide); they can be positioned either outside or inside the bag.  I mitered the corners to finish them neatly, as they would be on the outside of the bag.  One could also turn the ends inside and hand-stitch closed; this would probably work best on the tube approach, rather than the lined, depending upon the thickness of the fabric.  The bottom ends of the straps should be placed just below the lower hem at the top of the bag.  I stitched a square and a cross in the area of the strap that overlapped the bag, to insure its security.  My guess is that the fabric would rip before the strap would come off.

Of course a neatly finished product needs to be ironed and all the threads tied off and clipped. 

I got a lot of pleasure from making these bags and so continued with a couple more which I'll show you later.  I even plan to stitch up a few more for our own use.


BigLittleWolf said...

There's something so sensual and satisfying working with textiles. You make me want to take up my quilting again. If only time permitted...


Anonymous said...

The bag turned out great!