I’ve tried making bags in the past, but never with much success (except tote bags) – especially since I tried to make them without a pattern and just cut random shapes to sew together.
A few months ago I saw a purse by Niizo on Instagram (@niizocraft), and thought it looked simple and professional. Then I discovered that she sells patterns and kits through her Etsy shop (Niizo) and I ended up buying the pdf patterns for the Craftsmanship Bag, the Fortune Wallet, and the Simple Day backpack.
I chose to get the pdf patterns rather than the kits, because:
- I have lots of fabric in my stash that I thought might work for these patterns
- The kits include leather tags, and as a vegan (had to slip that in there or they revoke my membership to the vegan club), I don’t use leather, wool (mostly – I’ll explain another time), silk, or fur
- I didn’t want to ship it all the way from Taiwan, for environmental reasons.
My usual plan, when I see a pattern I like, is to read all the blog reviews to see how other people made it and whether it was worth getting, and whether there is anything to watch out for. However, with this one, I couldn’t find any reviews by anyone that hadn’t bought the kit, so I didn’t know how it might work with alternative fabrics. I did read many reviews saying how amazing the patterns are and how much they love the kit, though – oh well.
The first one I wanted to make is the Craftsmanship Bag, which is a mid-sized shoulder bag with pockets and zips.
In my stash, I had a gorgeous mustard denim which I bought from the Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead, London a few months ago. I thought this would make a great outer fabric for the bag. I also had a bolt end of a super colourful cotton jungle/safari print that I’d also bought at the Village Haberdashery, but nearly a year ago now. For the leather pieces, I actually had a small swatch of red faux leather that I ordered from Offset Warehouse to see what it was like, and it was more than enough for this bag, and maybe even one other. Sorted! …
… Not quite. I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it is to source the hardware for bags – this is where the kit might work out to be the better option. Online it seems there’s either too much to choose from that there’s no way in hell I could make a decision, or there’s not all the items I need available from the same site so I end up with all different colours, or, possibly worse, the photos show how much plastic packaging is involved and I chicken out. So, at the time of starting this blog post, I still haven’t got the D-rings, loops, slide buckle, or swivel hooks.
-> Printing the pattern.
The download file includes the pdf pattern and the instructions (thankfully).
The nice thing about it is that she’s kept each piece of the pattern to one A4 page, so there’s no need to use sticky tape or glue, though sometimes that means that it’s only a quarter of the pattern piece and you need to fold or trace out the piece onto the fabric – follow the layout carefully. When I printed it, some of the pages lost part of the information into the margins, so I had to redraw them by hand. However, really brilliantly, each piece has the measurements marked on it, so I just used a ruler to work out where the end should be.
-> Cutting the fabric.
The layout given works quite well, but I always despair at how much fabric gets wasted if you follow the layouts exactly – this is more aimed at clothing layouts, where I guess they have to allow for larger sizes, but I see pictures on Instagram etc. where there’s huge gaps between the pieces. Shame! I try to line everything up perfectly, using the edges of other pieces if possible, and leave as little gap as possible. I’ve been called “frugal” for doing this, but I’d prefer “environmentally conscious”.
-> Making the bag – eek!
So far – as at the time of writing this I have done the lining, the zipped pocket and the side pockets – it’s come together pretty easily. I do admit I struggled with the piping and zipped pocket though, because the seam allowances are tiny/tight to make it as neat and professional as possible, and I just don’t have the right presser foot(s) for doing such a thing. Even my zipper foot has a bit that sticks out the side for attaching it to the clip-on shank. So, I have ordered a special zipper and piping foot that needs to be screwed onto the arm instead, but it’s too late for the piping and zipped pocket on this bag. I had to unpick the zipped pocket topstitching about 3 times before I just gave up, as you can see below. I ended up using three lines of stitching to get close enough to the zip to hold the lining in place behind, and it shifted out of line when I got to the zip pull on the side closest. NB. I wish I had under-stitched (is it under or top stitching here? I never know) the lining of the pocket to the bottom edge of the zip, because if I’m not really careful when closing the zip, the fabric can get caught up in it.
The lining of the bag was pretty easy and came together well. The first step is making the inside pockets that run along both sides of the bag. A lovely feature is the nylon (or any contrasting fabric you choose) that lines the pockets binds the top of the fabric giving a flash of the colour. I used a green slippery fabric I had in my stash for years, which was originally a tablecloth I used for craft markets when I sold jewellery.
The “leather” pieces need to have holes punched in them to attach them to the bag. Niizo provides a link to one of her YouTube videos (below) to demonstrate how to use waxed thread to sew leather using a double needle stitch method.
Luckily, with the faux leather pieces, it’s pretty easy to punch some holes. I used a tiny paper hole punch to make 5 holes horizontally in two rows on each end of the D-ring holders, and two rows of 7 on the front patch.
Not sure whether to try putting some lettering onto the front patch. Maybe my initials? I would love to have a punch made of my CleaMadeThis logo, but for now I think I’ll leave it blank. I can probably add something at a later stage.
I marked the centre of the piece and 3.5 cm (1 3/8 inches) down from the top.
The beeswax (though not vegan is something I’ve had in my beauty supply cupboard for years, pre-veganism), and it turns out to be perfect for waxing some embroidery thread, but I imagine soy wax would also work.
I used Sashiko Big Eye Straight Needles from Tulip on either end of the 42.5cm long waxed thread (I ran it over the beeswax a few times while holding it down with my thumb, which created a channel in the wax and allowed the thread to be coated all the way round).
Following Niizo’s YouTube video, I pushed the pointy bit of the needle through the centre of the thread at 1cm intervals 4 times from 5cm in, threaded the tail through the eye and pulled the loops back over the end – the video explains it very well, with english subtitles. Repeat at the other end of the thread.
Pushing one of the needles through the end hole, I made sure the lengths were even and then looped them through each hole, one from the back and one from the front until the last hole, which I pushed through from the front and tied to the thread remaining at the back in a double knot. I worked the other direction on the other row so that the knots don’t end up on the same side in case there’s any bulk showing through.
Next up, the foam bottom. It says in the instructions that you can use any design you want in this step…uh oh, this will take some thought. Niizo does a nice diagonal N on the bottom of hers. I want one that will hold the foam in place securely, and I don’t think a C will do that, unfortunately. My logo is a bit too curvy to try sewing; I think something with straight lines is best. Maybe a # or is that too try-hard? In front of me is a gorgeous jewel orchid, which I got from Bloombox last year, and the leaves have given me an idea…
For the foam base, I actually used some thick fusible foam – the Bosal In-R-Form Plus Fusible Foam Stabilizer, with single sided fusing, so I was able to iron it in place first, rather than pinning.
I drew a chalk design on the inside of the foam lining so I could sew along the lines.
Here is the sewn design from the outside. I’m pretty pleased with it!
I didn’t do any backstitching because I thought it might ruin the look of it, so I pulled through the threads to the inside and knotted them together.
I realise now that I have unintentionally done the vegan logo. Still cool, though, since my flat is full of plants.
After writing the above, I took a trip into town (London) to see if I could pick up the hardware from MacCulloch & Wallis, just off Oxford Street. They didn’t have the exact items I was looking for, but I managed to get mostly matching versions of everything on the list.
The swivel hooks are huge, but I rather like them, and the loops are much more silvery than the rest, but the lady in the shop said they will tarnish more with use. Fingers crossed.
I also picked up some bag feet to put on the bottom to stop it getting scuffed and dirty, as much. NB. these are friggin’ difficult to attach, unless you have something good for punching through the foam and outer fabric, which I do not. I used an awl, a pair of embroidery scissors, and many swearwords.
The next step in the instructions is to sew in the outer pocketed sides. This is a really tricky step. I used the plastic clips I bought at the Knitting & Stitching Show last week (I bought them because they weren’t wrapped in plastic, even though they are made of plastic, so I have some guilt about this), and they were brilliant! I’m sure it must be possible to make metal or glass versions of these clips, though. Let me know if you know of any or if you could make some.
The finish of the side pockets is not my best work, but that is mostly due to the struggles I had sewing the piping with my zipper foot. I tried to get as close to the stitch line as possible, but sometimes it shows through from the other side. I think this would only be noticeable to someone looking very closely at the bag, though, like me.
The handles: make sure you read the instructions/look at the picture carefully when sewing the handles. I had to unpick a couple of inches on each end because I sewed straight along instead of curving at the ends.
Here is the handle attached to the back of the bag.
I like to tie off all my sewing, even after backstitching, because I’m paranoid about it coming undone. However, that leaves slightly messy looking threads where I’ve tied and cut the threads – you can see it on the left side of the handle in the picture. Not entirely sure how to avoid that.
The main zip: I got this sparkly (it doesn’t show up in the photos, but it really is sparkly) zip from The Village Haberdashery. As with everywhere else I’ve looked since, I couldn’t find any metal zippers that are 30cm in length. This one is 40cm, so I’m going to have to cut it to length carefully. It did mean that I could keep the zip pull out of the way while I sewed it in place though, so that’s a win.
Here is the zip and bag top sewn into the lining of the bag. You insert it and sew around the top.
And here is the outer bag inside the bag lining. It was very challenging to sew this together, because the mustard denim fabric seems to stretch ever so slightly as I sew, so I ended up with a bit of excess fabric, which created a fold – luckily, I was able to hide it in one of the corner seams.
And here it is turned the right way in, clipped and ready to topstitch.
Typically, my yellow outer-matching thread ran out as I finished sewing the zip so, instead of going to buy some more to topstitch the bag, I decided to use a rainbow thread – not entirely convinced by that decision, but I can always redo it at a later stage.
I decided not to sew up the strap just yet. I’m not happy with the large swivel hooks I bought; I think they will be too heavy for the bag, so I’m going to wait until I find some that are perfect. I took a readymade strap off one of my old handbags, and it matches the faux leather patches perfectly (it’s probably the same material).
So here is the finished bag:
I’m really proud of this make, and it is probably one of the more challenging things I’ve sewn. It’s got so many different bits to it, and there’s been a few new skills I’ve had to learn along the way – piping for one. Now it’s filled with the essentials: KeepCup, current book for the train (Outlander book 1), Chilly water bottle, purse, “me-made” winter hat, tote bag, and notebooks with fabric swatches and project details.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end!! Sorry for the long post, but I thought it would be beneficial to talk through the whole process – it’s what I like to read on other people’s blogs before I start a complicated project.