Thursday, 31 December 2015

My first bag - finished and given as A Christmas present

When I was in Abakhan in Preston, I bought a beautiful but rather large owl appliqué (no photo, sorry - didn't think!) My daughters all have a bit of a love affair with owls but one, my oldest, does,  in particular, as do her sons.

No owl here
I decided to make a bag for that daughter, intending to appliqué the owl to the outside of the flap. I had several bag patterns in books and downloaded from free sites and eventually decided to make the Mia messenger bag from the book Bag Bazaar by Megan Avery . “25 Stylish Bags to Sew in an Afternoon” is its subtitle. As I had never made a bag, I thought this sounded like a suitable starting point. As you will see, I don’t agree with the subtitle!

First step - I bought some canvas. I already had some heavy fusible interfacing,  bought when I intended to make a bag but didn't. I also found an 18” zip as recommended. They specified a dressmaking zip but mine was heavier and wider and open ended. Still, my bag making buddy at class thought it would be fine. In the end,  I used striped canvas for the outside and red heavy weight cotton for the lining and insertion. The fabric I was going to use originally didn't work with the fusible interfacing. I can't really show how thick the canvas is on these photos.

I followed the steps one by one,  or thought I had!  I struggled with some of the instructions and so did my classmate, who kindly supplied me with the other bag making supplies I needed - webbing, sliders and magnetic catches. I bought feet, catches, metal spring hooks and webbing. However, my classmate advised that detachable straps were not a good idea and that my webbing was too narrow. Hence, I ended up using her sliders x 3. One for the handle length adjustment and two to connect the strap to the bag.

Missy wearing the bag as this was taken before being gifted and I don't have a photo with new owner wearing it

So I got going. I measured all the pieces onto card for my pattern. It was more difficult than I anticipated to get the lengths correct and the corners all square. I then cut out all the pieces - main pattern pieces x 4 in fusible interfacing and 2 x in striped canvas; flap pattern pieces x 2 in fusible interfacing, x 1 in lining material and x1 in striped canvas; and 4 divider pattern pieces from the heavy cotton lining fabric.

Then came my first problem - I struggled enormously with trying to fuse the interfacing onto the fabric. My sewing bee tutor Dan tried to improve this later without much success but using a steam generator iron has since helped. I didn't realise this would be an issue.

I followed the steps one by one. I found the diagrams in the book unhelpful, on the whole and I was told by my bag making classmate that the instructions were poor and confusing. I certainly found them so!

Anyway, I moved on. Problems I encountered:
  • I managed to insert bag feet but couldn't source the plastic canvas for the base in the time scale I wanted - I saw some on the net which seemed very expensive and would have added a lot of cost to the project. So, in the end, I compromised. Others had suggested a thin chopping board from Asda; I used plastic coated foam board. It worked reasonably well, though it did bend a bit at one point.
  • I only used 2 bag divider pieces instead of the 4 I had cut. I reread the instructions and still didn't see where I had gone wrong. It’s clear that the zip was supposed to be sandwiched between two layers of the dividing fabric and I missed the part where the second layer was inserted. However, the fabric is so thick that one layer is fine. (I had big problems stitching, see later, and another layer would have made it absolutely impossible, I feel!)
  • The zip was actually unnecessarily long. Had I realised this in advance, I would have used a shorter dress zip. This would have been cheaper and because the zip would have been finer, I might have had fewer sewing problems later. Also, the specification for how the zip had to be sewn to the divider were puzzling (probably because I missed the second layer) and I think this led to a problem with the position of the zip below the bag.
  • I managed to sew the divider into the lining as specified though on just reading it, I couldn't follow what I was supposed to be doing.
  • I didn't press at the right points and couldn't later. I’ll know next time. Pressing wasn't mentioned anywhere in the instructions - sure, I should have known.
  • I really struggled putting the lining into the bag. To start with my lining appeared much too long. Turned out that the original zip insertion was probably at least partly to blame for some of the issues as it was too high; I didn't want to dismantle and redo so we managed to deal with the issue. Again, I’ll know next time.
  • The biggest issue was stitching around the top of the bag to attach the turned over lining to the turned over outer cover. Add in heavy interfacing and flap and seams and doubled webbing and there are a lot of layers and a lot of thickness plus there wasn’t very easy access to the side seams. I asked Dan to sew it on her industrial machine but she didn’t manage because the machine has no free arm and access was too difficult - she tried but we had to unpick. My little class machine sewed around the easier bits until the needle broke and Dan felt we’d better stop! In my other class, Lyn used an old heavy duty machine but it couldn’t cope with the remaining side seam either. So, I ended up trying to hand sew this - or at least try to make the outside appear similar. I couldn’t actually penetrate all the layers. I’d hoped that a workshop at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show would show me the way, but it wasn’t to be! I think the issues are - the fabric and interfacing are thick (as specified) and there are just too many layers, with lack of access; also the way the zip is put in, it is also sewed over - my zip has metal teeth and is chunky, whereas a dress zip would be finer and probably plastic. I’d need to think about reducing bulk (not covered in the book). The outer fabric needs to be stiff to hold the shape but perhaps the lining could be finer. Also, the interfacing could have seam allowances cut off, I imagine.
showing flap junction and bag open

The area at the top of the photo, above the zip, was the really difficult bit to sew. The zip should have been sandwiched between two layers of red but mine wasn't as I obviously misread the instructions.

The bag zips up nicely

In the meantime, I realised that my owl motif was too big for the front of the bag and changed plans. I drew out a Siamese cat silhouette and decided to give the bag to my middle daughter, instead. Later, I realised that the flap is actually much shorter than it appears to be from the drawing in the book and that my cat appliqué wasn’t going to work either. I considered shrinking it but felt that wouldn’t work. I thought about missing an appliqué out entirely - but in the end I have used a commercially bought small cat appliqué.

I am pleased with the bag, despite the fact that it’s not ‘perfect’. I think my daughter likes it. My bag making classmate says you have to make a bag before you know how to make one and that is so true. My class tutor, Lyn, likes the bag and will make it up - taking into account some of the issues I found. I certainly suggest a longer flap as well as dealing with the bulk issues. I'll get some tips from her after she's done one!

As far as the owl appliqué is concerned - David framed the owl, set on a suitable background, for the same daughter who got the bag, not the real owl lover. It looked great. Sorry, I don't have a photo of it. He has different plans for my oldest daughter! Instead of the handmade bag I intended, I bought her an owl bag, that is a bag made of owl patterned fabric rather than made in an owl shape, which went down very well.

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