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Building My Dream Bag Pattern and Instructions By: Lisette Carrithers Like some of you, I am pretty comfortable altering patterns. It started because, as someone shaped like a fireplug, I had to. I have never been able to figure out why they don't make fireplug-shaped patterns. As my confidence grew, I started adding the details that I wanted to patterns. But I hadn't ever drafted from scratch. Going through the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, I fell in lust with a Marc Jacobs Mayfair Bag, and I mean bad.

Now gorgeous as it was, I have a kid in private school and have already been told that braces are in her future so the $895 price tag was just a little more than I could float in my monthly budget. But the heart wants what the heart wants so I made my first attempt at drafting a pattern from scratch. If you follow along you should be able to make one, too. If you do, I demand that you send me pictures. Handbag patterns are great starter drafting projects because they take the whole “fit” thing off the table. Supplies: • Leather or fashion fabric – 4 sq. ft of leather or 1 1/2 yards of 45-inch wide fashion fabric • Equal amount of canvas if your leather or fabric is thin • Equal amount of lining • 20” coat zipper • Newspaper or other paper to draft the pattern • D-rings • Swivel hasps (those clippy things at the end of the strap) • Split key ring if you want to do the tassel too, (see the separate tutorial)

To start, I printed out all the information I could find on my dream bag. The sales description gave me the dimensions and pocket layout. A blow-up of the picture gave me details like quilted corners, gutsy zipper at the top, luggage lock closure, and wrapped leather handle connectors. The chain handle was great and ultimately, I decided I had to have it. The source at the end of the tutorial is one of the best. At this point, I had an idea of what I needed to get the look. In this case, the structure of the bag is pretty soft but not floppy. The actual bag couldn't be simpler. It is really just a folded rectangle hanging from rings and a chain handle. I also had an idea of what design elements I could skip, while still getting the look and making it my own. I had some silver leather that would be fantastic for this but then I probably didn't need the quilting. The luggage lock was completely decorative and I could just skip it. Maybe I’d do some kind of embroidery instead. The dimensions of the Marc Jacobs bag are 8 inches high by 11 inches long by 1 inch wide. Judging from those, I didn't need a sidepiece, but only darts in the corners with some top stitching to make it look good. The size seemed good to me so I didn't think I needed to change much there. The height measurement was the folded height, not the total height, so, by going back to my picture, I guessed that the flap hangs over by about five inches. So I measured out a rectangle 14 inches high x 12 inches long so that I had a 1/2 inch seam allowances all around. This would be my pattern for the leather, the canvas underlining (to add some heft), and the lining. I cut two of these rectangles in each material.

I figured out the measurements for the pocket I wanted on the front (6 1/2 by 12 inches) and then cut one of each from the leather, canvas and lining fabric.

I fused the lining because the silky stuff that I picked out was beautiful but thin. I destroy bag linings so I needed something heavier. Yes, I fused it to hair canvas. I said I was tough on linings!

First, I started sewing the leather and canvas pieces together. The leather was creamy soft and not all that thick, so I would destroy it in a New York minute. The canvas gave it some body without making it so stiff that it wouldn’t flap over. I sewed everything in the seam allowance (SA) at a 1/4-inch from the edge.

I started the pocket construction by sewing the lining to the leather, right sides together, 1/2-inch from the edge.

You’ll notice that I never use pins. That’s because I was using leather. Pin holes don’t “heal” in leather or vinyl so you can’t use them. If you’re really desperate the little binder clamps work well. If you’re using fabric though, feel free to use pins. Frankly, I use very few pins anyway but if you are used to using them, sewing with leather will take some time to feel comfortable.

I rolled the lining back and did some finger pressing. I also added the lighter side of the magnetic snap. This is optional. The pocket as designed is really just a slip pocket but the snap helps keep its shape better and I won’t lose my cell phone that way.

Putting in the snap is really easy. First you need to make two little holes in the lining where you want it. Then stick the prongs through the holes with the right side on the right side of the lining and put on the backing plate.

Then, push the prongs down over the backing plate. Easy-peasy! No, I don’t use my fingers to bend the prongs. Those things are tough.

Now I had forgotten to make the darts in the corners before this but it is not too late to do it now. The dart is fairly small (1&1/2 to 2 inches) and I clipped as much bulk from it as possible.

After sewing it, I cut off the overhang and then cut it open and pounded it flat.

On the leather I topstitched not only to reinforce the dart but also so it would look nicer. Do both corners of the pocket making sure that they match. Don’t forget to do the darts in the lining pieces, also. I did the darts in all the leather pieces and all the lining pieces at this point. I didn’t bother topstitching the darts for the lining or the bag piece that was going under the pocket.

Now it was time to sew the pocket to the front bag piece. Just lay the pocket piece on top with the lining folded down. I topstitched the top of my pocket to hold everything in place but you don’t have to.

Now just stitch all the way around the bottom of the pocket/bag pieces. Stay in the SA, I just stitched right over the previous line.

Now I put in the magnetic part of the snap by sticking it to the part attached to the lining and using the prongs to mark the leather for where the holes go. Poke the holes like you did with the lining piece and put it in the same way.

You will need to make the little leather pieces that hold the D rings in place and sew them to either the front or the back where you want to bag to fold over. Mine are

about an inch up from the top of the pocket. I did reinforce the pieces that attach the D rings because the entire weight of the bag hangs from there. Consider yourself warned, there is nothing sadder than falling in love with your bag and having it fall apart on you the first time you really stuff it. Notice that they are sewn with the D ring facing in so that when you turn the bag the right way they will be sticking out.

By now you should have the darts sewn in everything and the pocket and D rings attached to the bag pieces. Let’s start putting this together. DO NOT jump ahead and make up “pouches” from the lining and outer fabric. This isn’t that kind of bag, if you’ve made lined totes, you know what I’m talking about. If this is your first bag ever, consider this insane rambling. If you’ve ignored my warning, you’ll never get that zipper to go in so it looks at all professional. I’ll wait while you rip. Done? Now, I’ll show you a fool-proof way to build your zipped bag and it is easy as pie. First, zip up your zipper. Second, lay this on top of one of your face up lining pieces so that the right hand edge of the zipper is aligned with the top edge of the lining piece. The zipper is face up. Obviously, you need a zipper foot here. You are also going to start using that 1/2-inch SA now for everything. Start the zipper 1/2 inch inside the lining but let the tape ends hang over.

Now sew the second piece of lining to the zipper the same way making sure to not sew over the first lining piece. Now the lining is done. Notice that this is the backside of the zipper that you’re looking at below.

Now take a small piece of leather (fabric), fold it, and place it at the front of the zipper like you see below. I sewed mine to make it easier to work with. If you’re going to sew it, make two because you’re going to need one for the other end, too. (This picture was obviously taken before attaching the lining to the zip.)

You want to make a sandwich with the leather (fabric) wrong side up, then the little cross piece you see above, then the zipper, then the lining. Make sure whatever you’re not sewing is flipped out of the way. Make sure your edges are aligned and start sewing. Before you get to the end of that piece slide the other leather (fabric) piece in so that it becomes the stop for that end.

At this point you can have the zipper open if it is easier. Just make sure to close it before you do the next part. Right now you’ve got something that looks like this. The lining is folded out of the way below.

CLOSE THE ZIPPER SO THAT IT IS BETWEEN THE TWO STOPS. Next, sew the second bag section to the zipper, sewing over the little tab sections. This is why you had to close the zipper earlier. Otherwise, you would have never been able to close it.

Hey, guess what? You’re almost done and all you’ve done is a couple of short seams. Now it should look, well, a mess really, but it’s time to start the real construction. In the picture below you’ve got (top to bottom) leather (fabric) wrong side up, lining right side up, lining wrong side up, and leather right side up, with a zipper stuck in between and the little leather tab thingy that now just makes a nice stop for the zipper. Trim the zipper ends, and anything that hangs past the SA on the tab.

This is everything laid out flat with the zipper trimmed.

Right now everything is attached to the zipper and nothing looks even vaguely baglike. That is all about to change. Lay the leather (fabric) so that it is right sides together with the lining on the opposite side of the zipper so it is right sides together. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR ZIPPER IS OPEN. Let me say it again in case you thought I was kidding. MAKE DAMN SURE YOUR ZIPPER IS OPEN. Now start sewing along the bottom of the lining half just in from the right hand corner. You want to leave enough of the flat bottom of the lining open to turn the bag when you’re done. If you’re sewing in leather and/or added the canvas, leave plenty of room. That stuff is thick when it is all sewn up. Sew all the way around the bag, over the zipper, if you can, my machine just flat out refused, even with a leather needle. I ultimately had to use a crewel needle and a sledge hammer but I regularly buy sewing supplies at Home Depot. You should have a great big inside out pouch with a zipper in the middle.

Reach in through the gap you left in the lining, past the OPEN zipper and pull on one of the corners of the leather (fabric) pulling the whole thing so that the lining is hanging out of the bag and is right side out.

For the final bit you need to close up the hole in the lining, you could slip stitch it by hand but, as I said in the beginning, I am hell on handbags, so I always machinesew mine.

I was always getting my linings caught in the zippers of my bags so now I just topstitch about 1/4-inch from the edge of the bag and lining to hold it down and out of the way. It gives the bag a cleaner finish too. (Sorry that picture is so blurry. I think SEWN is getting a new camera for Christmas.)

Look-ey there, you just made yourself a simplified version of a $900 bag. Add your strap and a tassel to the zipper and you have:

For the chain that I wanted, I recommend, I got a 5/8-inch wide chain for $7.95/yard. The tassel is a separate tutorial and really easy. Plus, tassels make great quicky gifts. I wasn’t kidding about wanting pictures if you make one of these. If you review it, send me a link to me at and I’ll include it on the site. If you have questions let me know. If you’d really rather have a pattern or don’t love the shape of this bag, I have to say I learned everything I know about bag construction from making up some of the Hot Patterns bags. While the special edition Nairobi and La Rue are gone, their other bags are divine and worth every penny. Go to and click on “Handbag Heaven.” Most give more than one look or size per pattern and, if you are patient, will teach you how to sew up a bag and improve your general sewing.

These tassels are super easy. Add a funky-classic touch to your bag or key ring and make quick, easy gifts. What more could you want? Supplies: • Leather or Ultrasuede - slightly more than a scrap if you’re just making one. But if you’re doing a bunch, make up your pattern and figure it out. • Rotary cutter • Rubber cement • Thread and a hand-sewing needle • Split key ring • Newspaper to draw out your pattern To start with, especially if you are planning on making more than one tassel, draw out your pattern. The one I made was 5 inches high and 6 inches wide. This gave me a long enough tassel with enough bulk that it didn’t look cheap. Once I had the pattern for the size I wanted, I cut out of the leather I was going to use. You can use fabric but this project really needs something that doesn’t fray. Ultrasuede is a good choice, too, but make sure to use the double-sided stuff since the wrong side shows. You don’t need much, so splurge a little.

Once I cut out the leather, I flipped it over and marked a line 1 1/2 inches from the long edge.

Now take your rotary cutter (I strongly suggest a rotary cutter) and cut a strip every 1/4 inch up to but not through the line. You have fringe!

Now take your rubber cement and dab just a little on the uncut strip and weigh it down a little. Fold it in half, so that the edge comes down to the cuts. Go make yourself a cup of tea and give it a minute to set, or go ahead and make the hanging loop.

For the loop, you really can use a scrap. This piece is 2 inches long and an inch or so wide. Fold it over itself so that one long edge is completely covered by the other. Now run a line of stitches up through all layers holding all of them in place.

Now you’re ready to start making the tassel. Start rolling the loop at one end.

Once you’ve gone around once, take a couple of stitches through the middle to secure the loop in place.

More rolling, more stitches, more rolling, more stitches. The stitches only need to go through the last layer, so don’t kill your fingers.

When you get to the end, take a few more stitches, but space them out so that the whole free edge is secured.

Slide the split ring through the hanging loop and you have an almost instant gift or cool bag accessory.

If you liked this, let us know and we’ll try to do more. If your friends would like copies of this please send them to This is published under a Creative Commons License and may not be distributed without the permission of the author.

Efficient Sewing (or How to Squeeze an Extra Hour Out of Your Packed-Full Day) By: Lisette Carrithers I don't know about you but there is something about a deadline that gets me going. As a result I get more sewing done during the run of Julie Timmel's Sewing With A Plan (SWAP) contest on the Stitcher's Guild on-line forum than I do any other time of the year. The challenges on Project Runway don't scare me from a time-planning standpoint. Of course, being creative on a deadline is a whole other ball of wax. Now maybe you never do SWAP-type sewing and you have no intention of sewing up a collection a la Project Runway in eight weeks. But all of us are trying to squeeze more time for the sewing we love into schedules that are full to bursting. If that is your life, have I got a plan for you! I may not be able to give you readymade style but I can show you how to sew up the stuff you are sewing more efficiently. What you need is a process. I am going to use the example of SWAP, but if you needed a prom dress on a deadline or a baby layette by the due date you can use the same approach. First, research your pattern and I don't just mean decide on something cute. I mean research. Take it out of the envelope and poke around. Is there anything in the instructions that you don't get? Are the instructions any good at all? Now if you're doing your gazillionth pair of pants the instructions may not matter. If, however, they have something you haven't seen a lot, like a fly front with a facing, you may want to spend some extra time going through them. Also check the pattern pieces. Experienced sewists know what a good sleeve cap should look like. If you don始t, get yourself a copy of a good fitting book (check out the SEWN BookShelf for some great ones). If some of the pieces look odd to you, figure out why now. You do not want to find out after cutting your good fabric that (insert cursed pattern company name here) has created a Frankenpattern. Now find some reviews for your beloved pattern. Sometimes this is harder than it should be, (LINK) and Stitcher's Guild (LINK) are some places to start. Don't give up if you don't see it on either of those. Do a Google search. If you can Google your date's history before he picks you up, you can be damn sure that somebody somewhere has at least talked about that pattern on her blog. If you find the pattern on blogs, ask the writers about it. Maybe they just loved the picture on the envelope or maybe they got half way through it and decided that walking barefoot across Louisiana pavement in August would be more fun (been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it). Maybe it was just beyond their skills.

Now comes the clincher: is the beloved pattern even going to look good on you (or the intended victim)? We have all sewn up way too much stuff that looks like utter crap when we put it on. Sometimes we are just delusional about our bodies. I have fantasies that the "right" pattern will make me tall and willowy instead of my usual stumpy self. I am proud to say that at 43-years-old I am finally putting to rest the insanity that I will have a growth spurt, that Japanese leg-lengthening surgery is a viable option, or that I will ever weigh the high school standard of 100 pounds for every five feet of height plus five pounds for every inch over. I am short and stumpy and, while I may be slightly less stout, I am never going to be willowy. Sometimes it is that we have a whole wardrobe for a life we never lead or at least don't lead anymore. The end result of all that sewing is a wardrobe that may fit and even look great but gives you nothing to wear on a day-to-day basis. So stop and look at what ends up in the laundry hamper. If it始s all jeans and sweats and you're sewing suits, how are you getting dressed? Save some of them, because we all have the occasion to wear something other than our usual attire. But if jeans are all you ever wear and you're comfortable with that, learn how to sew jeans really well. Make great jackets that you can wear with them to satisfy the urge. But make stuff you actually need, not what you fantasize about. At this point, you might think I'm nuts. You have no time to sew and I have you doing research and self-analysis, but trust me. I am talking about efficient sewing not speed sewing. If you just want to cover your body as quickly as possible and not care how you look, I highly recommend togas. They're bound to come back into style at some point. But this is a fashion magazine, so do your research, get a pattern you know will work, and take a good look at your figure and life. These alone may be improvements over your usual sewing. Now we get to the nuts and bolts. As I said, I am going to use the example of SWAP but these techniques can be used any time you need to meet a deadline. First, cut out all of your pattern pieces. If you are making multiple garments, get a bunch of gallon-size Ziploc-style bag and store each pattern in it own bag. This will save time later on when you're going crazy looking for a particular piece. Label the bags. Now I am not much of a muslin-maker. I realize this is heretical, but hear me out. I don't have tons of time so I do a quick tissue fitting if a pattern is very different from something I've sewn before. Once you start sewing clothes you really wear and that work for your life, the shapes probably aren't going to change much. You don't want to get into a rut but what works on your body is what works and that is that.

So let's assume you're working with all new patterns but you have an idea of some of your figure differences, i.e., the things you always have to change. For me, that means short legs, sway back, tipped waist, and full bust. So I know I have to fix the pattern for at least those items. * For SWAP, I move through all of the patterns fixing the issues methodically: length problems first, width issues second. This is important and something I didn't learn well into my sewing career. If you stop to think about it, the logic is obvious. Doing a full bust adjustment (FBA) is pointless if the bust point isn't in the right place first and the same goes for everything else. Unless otherwise noted by the pattern company, patterns are sized for a B-cup bust. In the industrialized world, women have been increasing their cup size steadily over the last 100 years. Odds are you may be a whole cup size bigger than your grandmother was. Unfortunately, that means that if the garment is at all fitted and if you give a rat's patootie about how it fits you are going to have to start doing the dreaded FBA. Altering the patterns probably takes a whole sewing session. But because you didn't fix it on the fly and worked methodically, these garments are going to fit instead of almost fit. Now that you know everything is going to fit you can go ahead and cut your fabrics. I cut everything - fashion fabric, interlining, and lining - before I start sewing because I cut and sew on the same table. This way, I only have to clear the decks once. For SWAP, I cut all the garments from the same fabric together that way I can lay them out in the most economical fashion. Once I am done with a fabric, I can put it way and not deal with it again. As I am cutting my fabrics I set aside all the pattern pieces that need to be cut from interfacing. Then I cut all my interfacing at once. When I am cutting interfacing, I also cut strips about 3 inches wide to add to hem areas and anywhere else that may need a little oomph. I do all of my fabric cutting with a rotary cutter. If you have never used one of these just switching from shears will save you hours of time. I have the biggest cutting mat I could find but I just saw that Olfa makes an even bigger one. This is definitely one of those areas where bigger is better. Now it took me awhile to master my rotary cutter and I still regard it the way I do a snake in the wild. Carefully! I have scars on several fingers and once sliced through the pad of my thumb with one –donʼt ask! I now use a magnet to change the blades, I practice Zen cutting, as in fully present in the moment, when I am using my rotary. I am not by habit a “notions” person but if I had to give up my rotary and go back to shears I think I would give up sewing. Now I want to introduce you to a favorite concept of mine: project bags. You can use the extra large sealable bags or do like I do and save the heavy plastic zipper bags that sheets and comforters come in. When I cut fabric, each item or set of items goes into a

bag. For SWAP, the jackets when into one bag, shirts in another, pants and skirts in another - you get the idea. This keeps a project together when you are not sewing. If you have kids the point is obvious; everything is protected from sticky fingers and no bits are lost. As pieces are cut, they go into the bag. After the interfacing is cut, fuse everything for all the garments. After fusing, everything goes back into the bag. Itʼs even better if you picked up all the notions for your project when you decided on a pattern. I usually choose my pattern and then choose fabric from my stash or vice versa, and then realize that I don't have thread to match or any of the notions I need. So I make a quick trip to the fabric store with swatches to match thread or buttons or whatever. Then the notions for each project go into the appropriate bag. For multiple items like SWAP I usually have a master envelope with all the pattern pieces, instructions, printed reviews, swatches, whatever I need. That way, if I need some information it is all in one place. I've been known to bring that envelope to bed with me. At this point the pieces are cut and fused, notions are bought, and everything is organized into manageable parts. The pattern is a winner, workable for your life and shape, and checked and fitted. You are ready to sew. Now the beauty of this is that all you have to do is sew. Yes, you will still need to have the iron going to press seams and darts, but you wonʼt have major downtime until you can pick up something from the fabric store or because you need to clear off a space to cut out interfacing or whatever. If you only have 15 minutes to sew, it will be a very productive 15 minutes. I have tested this method with SWAP and can tell you that having enough time is something I will probably never achieve. I work full-time and have a family that demands attention and even to be fed on occasion. I suffer from sporadic insomnia but tend to surf the web in the middle of the night, not sew (needles through fingers are so unpleasant). I have the same 24 hours you do so if I can do it, you can do it, too. More importantly, I want you to do it so treat yourself to some sewing today. Call it therapy and then youʼll have the added gratification of having saved yourself $300 and you donʼt even have to leave home.

* For tips on fitting and altering patterns, SEWN Magazine recommends: Fit for Real People by Palmer & Pletsch Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina New Mexico State Universityʼs Clothing Publication Listing (LINK

Sew Stylish – With unending options at her disposal – patterns of every shape, fabrics in every color and texture, personalized fit -- you’d think a woman who sews would never have that frustrating “nothing to wear” experience. And you’d be wrong! In truth, many sewing enthusiasts become so engaged in how the buttons match the fabric or in the embellishment technique they are dying to try … and completely overlook how the finished project will look on them. Or how it will coordinate with other pieces in their wardrobes. The missing component is what I call “points of connection”. The more characteristics that exist in common between a woman’s innate characteristics and the clothing and accessories she wears, the more lovely she will look. And the more readily the contents of her closet will mix and match into an unending variety of exciting combinations for every event in her lifestyle. The more people will stop saying “Oh, you made that?” and start saying “You always look so fabulous.” So how do you create points of connection? Here are a few examples: • Color – the color in your wardrobe should echo your facial color pattern (hair, eyes, skin and natural blush tones) and other colors of similar temperature, value and intensity. • Silhouette – the shapes of your garments should follow the outline of your body shape and its curves or straighter lines. • Facial structure – print motifs, garment details and accessories should be about as angular or as softly curved as the shapes of your facial features. • Scale – the size of buttons, plaid repeats, pockets, belts and other style components should be about as diminutive or as grand as your own body • Personality – the styling of clothes and accessories should evoke the dramatic, romatic, rustic, classic or eclectic feeling of your personality. As you apply those “points of connection” to a collection of related tops and bottoms, wardrobe magic begins to take shape. In fact, you may experience a new kind of wardrobe frustration … exchanging “I have nothing to wear” for “I don’t have enough places to go to show off all these great outfits.” And that, dear ladies, is a high class problem. In future issues we’ll take volunteers from among our readers and show you exactly how to apply these concepts to create wonderful wardrobes, If you’d like to apply for guinea pig status, contact ________________________ Meanwhile, you can visit and subscribe to the monthly email newsletter, Eye4Style.

Nancy Nix-Rice is an image and wardrobe consultant with a life-long background in the sewing industry. Former award-winning retailer and educational director for Baby Lock, Nancy is author of the image classic LOOKING GOOD (Palmer/Pletsch). She presents day-long style seminars for Guild groups across the country. Nancy now has a DVD version of her book available through Palmer/Pletsch

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