05 Oct

Seven steps to building better bags with Sara Lawson

Carrying on with our bag theme this week we have asked superstar bag designer/maker, Sara Lawson, to share some of her top tips for building better bags.

1. Choose bag fabrics that your machine can handle! Remember that when you will be assembling a bag, you'll be sewing the front to the side and so on. Sometimes there's extra bulk to these parts than just the fabric and interfacing, which is thick enough already (does your bag have a side pocket attached to the side panel? Or what about straps that come down into that bottom seam on the front of the bag?). I recommend using quilting cottons for your bag as a good starting point.

Top tip: It's a good idea to test small 5" swatches of fabric and interfacing layers before starting on your project to determine if your fabric choice is suitable for your project.

2. Interfacing is something that you will never see in the finished bag, but it is the very most important thing that you will add to your bag. Depending on the design of the bag, my very favourite interfacing to use is a foam interfacing (By Annie's Soft and Stable, Pellon Flex Foam, Bosal In-R-Form, or automotive headliner). This is a sew in interfacing, and will be basted to your fabric by machine using a 1/8" seam allowance. For bags that require a bit of stiffness, I like adding a heavyweight sew-in interfacing, such as Pellon Peltex. Interfacing can be a personal preference, so make a few bags and find your favourite!

Top tip: Each time you purchase a different interfacing, I recommend labelling it and assembling it into a little charm pack that you can use as a reference tool for future projects or when visiting the fabric store. That way, you'll know how each interfacing feels and how thick it is.

3. Anywhere that you cut into a fabric (to install magnetic snaps, twist locks, etc.) use a seam sealant, such as Fray Check or Fray Block. Cutting slits into fabric weakens that fabric area, and I like to use a seam sealant to reinforce the area and help prevent something bad things happening, such as the magnetic snap ripping out of the fabric. I also occasionally like to use grosgrain ribbons in my projects, and ribbon usually frays like crazy once it's cut. Seam sealant helps with this too.

4. Take your bag to the next level by using purse hardware! It will take any bag from looking 'homemade' to looking 'handmade' – the difference between the two is that 'handmade' is the kind of bag that people will stop you on the street and ask where you bought your bag, and 'homemade' is when people look and your bag and say, "Oh how quaint, you sewed something for yourself." We want our bags to look professional! If you look around the shops, a majority of the bags sold have some sort of metal hardware, clips, or closures.

5. Medium to large-sized bags can take a lot of strain in the bottom area because of the weight of carrying a lot of items. Use purse feet or a false bottom to stabilize your bag. Purse feet are small metal rivets with a prong on one end that are inserted through a slit in the right side of the fabric, and then the prongs opened outward. Most bags require 4 purse feet, one in each corner. Alternatively, you can make a false bottom for any finished bag – just measure the dimensions of the bottom and add a 1/4" seam allowance to cut 2 pieces of fabric. Sew 3 sides of the bottom, right sides together, then insert a stiff stabilizer, such as quilters template plastic, cross stitch template, foam core, or heavyweight interfacing. Turn the opening toward the wrong side by 1/4", topstitch, and you're done!

Top tip: My favorite materials to use for false bottoms are two layers of cross stitch template plastic, with a layer of foam core board in between. Very durable, and just remove the false bottom from your bag before washing!

6. Thread choice and top-stitching is important. For bags, I prefer to use 40wt Aurifil thread (although 50wt thread is fine in a pinch if you need a certain thread color). I've also experimented with using a thicker 12wt Aurifil thread on top and 40wt thread in the bobbin (most machines would not be able to accommodate 12wt thread in the bobbin, so just use a weight of thread that is a step down) for top-stitching and love the results.

Top tip: When top-stitching straps or the opening of your bag, try lengthening your stitches. I normally use a 2.5mm stitch length for bag sewing, but when I get to areas that are very thick, these 2.5mm stitches tend to shrink and run very close together. Lengthen the stitch length to 3.0mm or 3.5mm and you will have nice clean stitches when you are topstitching.

7. Press, press, and press. I can't tell you how many times I see a finished bag, whether in person or in a photograph, and I can see that the bag has not been pressed as well as it could have. This may seem like a small and insignificant thing but it's really worth taking 5 minutes to give it a good pressing.
Top tip: Press every single seam in the finished bag, and if you have a clapper (wooden block), use that with some steam, although an iron by itself will work just as well. Interfacing and fabric layers can create a lot of bulk, and by working through the entire bag and flattening all the seams against your ironing board, you'll have a beautiful bag that you can be proud of.

Keep your eyes peeled for Sara's new Craftsy class, Building Better Bags: Interfacing and Structure, due out this Autumn.
You will find many beautiful bag patterns designed by Sara on her website. Right now Sara is hosting Purse Palooza - a month long extravaganza of fun bag making reviews from lots of talented bag makers.






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