Ahhh – the lovely world of bags… there are so many great things about bags… You can use your scraps and feel virtuous, you don’t have to fit yourself, you can get away with a few inaccuracies and you use all that quilting cotton you bought for skirts when you first started sewing! (I know it’s not just me). I’ve made a few different bags before and I really enjoy the process, but it’s been a little while, so I’m delighted to be one of the leaders for November’s bag month on Sew my Style 2019. I already wrote an intro to the bag patterns we’re featuring this month and suppliers, and Eowyn wrote a fantastic post with lots of bag inspiration for both patterns, so check them out if you didn’t already!
This month I’ve made the Raspberry Rucksack by Sarah Kirsten, which is a really cute, but very spacious rucksack, and not unlike some of the RTW rucksacks that are popular in high-end shops. I really like the end product and will give a few specific tips on this bag in the second part of the post (so go on and shoot down if that’s what you’re here for), but first I wanted to list a few invaluable tips for bag beginners or anyone looking for a refresh!
Of course, both bagmaking and garment making use the same basic tools and materials, but they do feel a little different when you’re working through the process…
Tip 1 PREP : With bags, the prep work takes up a much greater proportion of the project. If you know this upfront, it’ll make it seem less tiresome when you start the project. I always look at it from the perspective that I’m already halfway through the project once I’m set up! 🙂 With this in mind…
- Making cardboard templates of your pieces can make it faster to cut your bag pieces – particularly if you’re cutting out the same piece multiple times. The bonus is you can use it again easily too!
- Definitely label your pattern pieces well. You might think you can remember which is which, but they really do all look the same after a while and it just slows you down. Ask me how I know!
Tip 2 TOOLS: Bags usually have plenty of layers once you’ve taken, fabric, lining, interfacing and corners into account, so you may want to employ a few of these tricks:
- You might need to use a larger needle than you’re used to (90/100) or possibly even a denim needle if you’re using heavier weight fabrics
- A walking foot can be helpful to keep layers moving smoothly if you’re using slippery fabrics
- Lots of bags use materials in which pinholes show (leather, waxed canvas etc.) so using wonderclips or similar to hold your pieces together can help avoid these marks
- A hump-jumper or thick piece of cardboard under your sewing foot can help you over bulky seams and areas
- If you’re using denim or something quite heavyweight, you can use a hammer to bash the seams. Hit them firmly to reduce the bulk and you’ll find them easier to sew. It’s quite therapeutic if you’re having a bad day too!
Tip 3 CONSTRUCTION: The main difference I notice between bag-making and garment making is the physicality. I don’t have a very high-end machine, so I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but with bag-making you definitely have to show your bag who’s boss! I have to push and pull at my bag much more than I would a garment and really get hands-on, twisting it into shape. You don’t have to be strong, but you have to get stuck in. Here are some other construction tips:
- Use a chopstick or thick knitting needle to poke out corners if you don’t have a point turner
- Take little tugs of fabric as you turn something inside out, rather than try to pull it all through at once. Patience is the key – I love this process!!
- Don’t automatically grade your corners and clip your seams when you’re making bags. We’re so used to doing it to avoid bulk in garment-making, but often you want the whole seam allowance with a bag for strength and durability.
And importantly: Honestly, at some point your bag is going to look a mess – rough corners, threads everywhere – but don’t give up!! Just wait until you turn it out. Seriously – it’s a little piece of sewing magic and it will all seem worth it!
The Raspberry Rucksack
And now onto my first rucksack for the month! I made the Big Raspberry (there’s a smaller version too) and I decided to go for something reasonably classic and durable, with some light blue canvas and navy webbing for the exterior. However, anyone who reads this blog at all regularly knows I like a splash of colour, so I added a bright pink lining, pink and blue zippers and some green binding to finish the interior. Whew!
I did not interface my bag as I used a sturdy duck canvas, but you definitely should if you’re using a lighter fabric and want to avoid the bag falling in on itself. As bags go, there isn’t a ton of hardware to fix on and there aren’t even too many pieces, but there are definitely a couple of trickier little bits to navigate, so here are a few notes from my construction:
Creating the pop-up pocket: Sarah Kirsten has put up a great photo tutorial for this part of the construction. I used it to make mine along with the instructions and would highly recommend giving it a look. She also has notes on supplies, which are equally useful.
Attaching the pop-up pocket: This was one of the more challenging parts of the construction and there are different ways to approach it. The instructions mention basting the pocket onto the main body, but my fabric was a little thick. I read someone else used a gluestick – and that could be an interesting way round it too. I personally just did it in steps and it worked out pretty well. Here’s what I did:
Pin the top part of the pocket down in place and sew along the top up to the corners:
Pin each side and sew down between the corners
Pin the bottom and sew; then sew all the corners separately once you’re happy that the placement is where you want it.
I found this piecemeal sewing to be more accurate and if you’re using a coordinating thread it looks neat. One thing I would recommend is pressing the pocket to get a nice rectangular shape as best as you can. My canvas didn’t take a press all that well, but the sharper you can get the shape before you attach it to the main body, the better it looks.
Attaching main body pieces: i don’t know about anyone else, but I found sewing the front onto the centre and then the back onto that to be the most physical part of the sew. You’re instructed to notch the corners to help with the matching up, but I found I needed more than one notch around the corners to get my pieces to line up – I had very little give in my canvas.
Topstitching: When you’re topstitching round the outside of the bag after attaching the zipper flap, watch you don’t catch your lining in the topstitching. It flaps around a bit, so is easy do and then your zipper might not work. Yes, you’re right – I did have to unpick it all.
And there we are! One perfect little rucksack for carrying around my everyday detritus! I really like the subtle profile from the front actually – it looks like you’re hardly wearing anything (bag-related, that is). I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone else’s bags, so remember to post your progress on social media #sewmystyle2019 so we can follow along and also please add tips in the comments if you think of any others – I’m always really interested in other sewists’ experiences. Here are a few final pics to finish: