Hey folks! I’m determined to make a few Xmas presents this year, and while this bag isn’t necessarily one of them (although it could be) I’m definitely going through a little non-apparel phase. I have to say I’m ridiculously happy with this bag. I can only describe it in terms of it being the way I’d like to feel about the clothes I make. That is, that it’s so much better and nicer than anything I could or would purchase in the shops, and not even because the sewing is so wonderful, but just because of the level of detail and the materials. I’m sure I will feel this way about clothes once I’ve improved on the fit and made something a little more complicated (maybe my coat?), but for now, the bag rules!!
Having said all that, I’m not going to detail the construction process as I would with a piece of clothing, since all bags are essentially made in the same way, but just point out the interesting/tricky/notable things I came across.
First, the bag is actually called the Great Getaway Bag and is from the The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam. This is a fantastic book that many bag-makers seem to like, and it’s because Lisa takes you through each component of bag-making by subject and chapter, with plenty of practice, but meaning that you should, in theory, be able to come up with your own design or tweaks.
I made the Versatile Book Bag (a tote) a long time ago as one of my first makes and decided to go for something a lot more complicated this time round. This is the biggest bag in the book and required a total of 59 pieces (incl. interfacing and fleece). For anyone who hasn’t made a bag before, much of the work (compared to apparel) is in the preparation. There are many pieces and you also need to interface and add fusible fleecing to many of them. There is a LOT of cutting out and ordering. I would highly recommend, therefore, that you mark all your pieces. It’s amazing how similar they look after a while. One other tip is to put your pattern pieces onto card as I have below. It’s so much easier to trace around and you usually have to cut multiples of the same piece.
For this bag I used three different fabrics: two Cotton and Steel canvas/linens – Gallop in Aqua and Metallic, and Arrows Steel Metallic. I also used a border linen that I bought from Miss Matatabi, but only the central part of the fabric for those big polka dots. The C&S canvas in particular is very soft for a canvas and soooo gorgeous and vibrant. Argh. I love it/them.
Another tip I would give any aspiring bag-makers is to try and secure all the hardware before you begin. You need quite a bit of specific hardware and it’s REALLY annoying to get to a step only to find out you have the wrong size D-rings or whatever. I get mine from a mixture of places (mostly local shops like Pacific Fabrics), but the cost can build up quickly, so I’ve started buying in bulk from Etsy or Amazon for items I think I’ll use a fair bit.
Alright, construction. Oh, one other thing – there are a couple of errors in the instructions/materials sections. Nothing major, but they did take me a little while to work out, so I’ll mention them here in case anyone else has the same issue.
a) When you cut the zip bottom panels for the box top zip, it should be 2 x trim fabric, not exterior fabric. Of course, you can use exterior fabric if you prefer it, but that’s not what is shown in the pics, so it’s a little confusing.
b) If you make the handles yourself, you need to cut two pieces of 19.5 x 2 and 3/8-in fabric, according to the book. This is nowhere near wide enough (the 2 and 3/8-in) and is roughly the finished width. I used 19.5 x 8-in wide pieces, but you can measure it up with your tubing to be sure.
c) When making the handle loops, instead of folding the “short sides”, it should be the “long sides”. It’s just the shape of the handles in this instance.
It’s also worth saying that, due to the format of the book as mentioned above, you do a fair bit of flipping between sections for the reference on certain parts: making a bag strap, for example. The book has a TON of info, but it does assume that you read up on previous instructions and various parts. That is, it’s not a total hand-holder of a book. If this really doesn’t float your boat, better to know in advance.
Most bags follow the approximate order of: 1. Cut all the fabric, interfacing, fleece, etc. out and fuse the interfacing and fleece to the fabric pieces; 2. Put all the little bits together – put in pockets, attach D-rings, make and attach tabs, handles and so on. The main two large sections were the zipped top for the bag, which came together nicely, and the bag handles.
I decided to have a go at making my own handles and bought some flexible tubing from the local hardware store to use for them. I then cut out two pieces of fabric and sewed them together to end up with small channels, through which the tubing was fed, before securing on either end.
I think they look a little rough and ready, so I may try and find a neater way of making them, but it is a nice thing to have them match the rest of the bag and it’s a darn sight cheaper than buying readymade ones!! Like a 20th or more of the cost. If I were making another bag as a special gift though, I’d probably push the boat out and get some nice leather handles. Importantly, they’re very sturdy and comfortable to hold, so overall I was happy with them.
After getting all your wee bits and pieces on and sorted, you basically move onto steps 3 and 4, which are to build the exterior of the bag, followed by the lining. The exterior is slightly more complex normally, but you’re essentially doing the same thing twice.
For this bag, the exterior has four corner trims to match the ends of the bag and a big front pocket with a magnetic snap. These things were fairly easy to put together.
The lining has an interior zipped pocket on one side and a partitioned pocket section on the other. Again, these were fairly simple and rather satisfying to put in. Zips are a LOT easier in bags than with clothing in my experience so far. The lining also has a double bottom into which you slide a cut piece of plastic canvas. This gives the bag a firmer bottom and supports the shape of the structure.
Once you have these two pieces finished, it’s time to stitch the whole bag together. And this is something else worth saying. Putting a big bag (or any decent sized bag actually) together is a very physical thing – much more than making a skirt or shirt. You have a lot of layers of fabric, plus fleece and interfacing and you really need to push and pull, tug and shape, in order to get the thing sewn together. I don’t mind at all, but it always catches me by surprise. You need to be prepared to show the bag who’s boss, I can tell you! I did attempt to take some pictures to show you, but it was very difficult, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to believe me that it was something of a wrestle.
Nevertheless, I didn’t come that far to give up, so my peppy little Brother machine got stuck in and did me proud. The best part of the whole make is right after this point, when you basically pull the lining though the exterior and flip it over. The bag goes from being a mess of threads and coarse lines to a beautifully finished item in one fell swoop. It’s a real sunbeam from the heavens moment.
All that remains at that point is to finish the bag up. The top of the lining is stitched to the exterior from the inside. I used a slipstitch to finish it off and it was so, so satisfying. This from a self-confessed hater of hand sewing! The long strap is attached to the top of the bag and it’s done! It’s so cushy and fancy – I love it and photos simply can’t convey the feel of the thing. It took me probably 10hrs altogether (a good proportion of which was prep), but it really is worth it for a great-sized and special bag like this. It’s going to be perfect for a couple of upcoming trips I have to Canada for a couple of days each and I look forward to using it!