The tote bag made me do it

I’m sneaking in… thank you all so much for your well wishes.  The cheesecake, both virtual and real, was fantastic.

I made a tote!   An old client requested it, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.  I already had the machine out for another project so I made the tote.  Here it is:

From September08

And the inside:

From September08

I’ve done some other projects too. If I can track down the pics (or take new ones), I will post them.


Bag versus bag… bag wins.

The weather this past Friday was awful… there were tornado and thunderstorm warnings all day. We spent the day inside… BC spent his time grousing about what was on tv while I groused (to myself) about grocery bags. Plastic grocery bags are wonderful and awful at the same time.  Wonderful because they are so thin and utile.  Awful because they are plastic and will never go away.  You’d think I would have already solved my personal grocery bag dilemma seeing as how I make tote bags and such. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m lazy. Being stuck inside all day with a ton of unfinished housework finally propelled me 3 feet across the office from computer to sewing machine.

My mission: an easy-to-make but strong grocery bag that MC and I will actually use. I had 2 basic patterns in mind: one based on plastic grocery bags, and one tote-bag style. An additional goal was to use stash fabric or recycled fabric.

Bag #1: This first design was based on plastic grocery bags. I took apart a plastic bag to make the pattern. I used a thrifted bed sheet as the fabric of choice.

(no, that is not my hairy arm in the picture!)

Results: Exactly like a plastic grocery bag… except that the handles are a bit cumbersome because fabric doesn’t squish down like plastic does. The recycled bed sheet was awesome except the color and pattern were too emasculating for any man to carry even with the best of green intentions.  At least that was my interpretation of MC’s reaction which went along the lines of “You made this one for me?! Couldn’t you use more macho colors??”

The pattern was also a pain in my neck (except it wasn’t my neck that was in pain, the pain was at the other end of my spine). Curves and single piece handles were awkward and required too much work for my peace of mind.

On to style number 2 (which I was hoping would not be number 2 like the first style).

Bag #2: This design is a tote bag… but different from the style of tote bags that I usually make.

Results: We have a winner (the man held the bag so it looks wonky but it lays perfectly flat). I modified the bag design because the original tote bag I based it on was made from heavier, unlined fabric. I used newly purchased fat quarters for this bag and some muslin from my stash. I didn’t have enough “manly” stash fabric, and Joann’s was having a sale, and BC was pitching a tantrum about something so I distracted him by asking him to pick some fat quarters for daddy. Whew! That was a mouthful… and then we went to the park for 2 hours where I managed to get a sunburn despite being bundled up because it was in the 50’s and the wind was blowing straight through my clothes and I was freezing, and why was I the only one there wearing something heavier than a sweatshirt including my family? Seriously.  They didn’t get a sunburn either.

Bottom line: This style was quick and easy to sew. The seams are strong. The material is strong because it is lined. The handles may be too short but I won’t know till the man actually uses them for groceries. I didn’t tell him about the handles because I didn’t want to influence his evaluation, and I don’t want to take the bag apart to put longer handles in (lazy, remember?). I did manage to use some of my stash… I can use more stash when I make bags for myself seeing as how I like feminine colors and patterns.  And wear sunblock if you are going to spend 2 hours at the park.

As you can see, I liked the pattern enough to duplicate it.

The colors are still “cute” according to the man but what do you expect when you let a 5yo pick them out after you stirred up a hornet’s nest of a temper tantrum… at least they aren’t emasculating pink flowers.

(BTW, BC insisted on putting back his original choice after MC said how much he liked the fabric… me thinks the boy wanted daddy to suffer.)

The house is still a mess… I’m thinking I need at least 10 of these bags!

Bag Tutorial – alternate top seam method

In my last bag tutorial (Gusseted Tote Bag Tutorial parts 1-5), I used the pillowcase method to attach the bag’s lining to the shell. I don’t usually use the pillowcase method. This is strictly a preference thing. So, if you like the pillowcase method and are happy with your results, keep using it. If you want to try something new, or maybe you don’t like the top of your bags, try this next method.

I am now presenting to you the “Cathy is a perfectionist and the pillowcase method ruffles her feathers” method, aka the “CIAPATPMRHF” method. I won’t lie to you, this method is like it’s name… it takes longer and is a little more labor intensive than the pillowcase method.

Step 18A (the “A” means it is the alternative method): Place the liner inside the shell with wrong sides facing.

Step 19A: Start folding down the edge of the shell and the edge of the liner (fold the shell to the inside, fold the liner to the outside… this way the folds are facing each other).

Fold the lining so that it is set slightly lower than the shell. This gives the top of your bag a clean edge.

When you pin the lining to the shell, make sure that the side seams of both line up. What I usually do is fold down the shell first, then line up the side seams. Then I go all the way around pinning the lining to the shell.

Step 20A: Lay the bag flat. This way you can make sure that the opening is even.

This picture shows how the lining is lower than the shell.

Step 21A: In this step, I sewed the lining into the bag without the handles in place.

This particular lining fabric was so slippery, I could hardly keep it pinned in place. If you are using a cotton lining, you can sew the lining and handles at the same time. See step 22A for placement of the handles if you are sewing them with the lining.

I like to sew with the lining up because I can see exactly where it is.

Step 22A: Mark the center of the bag with pins. Then measure out to where the insides of the handles will be.

If you sewed all the way around the bag like I have shown, you have to rip open the seam to place the handles. More precise sewers would have left small openings for the handles. I’m not that precise and I love my seam ripper.

You will want to open the seam slightly wider than the width of the handles.

Step 23A: Slide the handles into the openings. Pin into place. Make sure the handles are the same length by holding them next to each other.

Sew the handles into place.

Go back to the Gusseted Bag Tutorial for hard bottom instructions.

Voila, you are done! Sit back and enjoy your bag.

Here I am!

Yes, the allergies have taken over my life. I have either been really sick with allergies (lethargy and dizziness) or I’ve had migraines. Both ways suck. If you don’t want to read about it, scroll down to the pictures of my latest project.

I just saw the ENT specialist today. He concurs that I have allergies. Heh, thanks, doc!

Actually, he was very nice and wants to screen my allergies before prescribing more, or different, drugs than I have now. The next step is 2 hours of skin pricks to see what I react to. Woohoo! Fun!

Oh, and he wants me to start saline rinses… through the nose snorting saline water rinses… I don’t think that is going to happen, and I told him as much. I may seem like an uncooperative patient but at least I’m an honest one. Why won’t it happen? Let’s just say my face is very sensitive… I’m the one that holds her nose when she jumps in the water, and I almost never put my face underwater. Why? Because I don’t like water in my nose, eyes, or ears. Cannot stand it. But, since I’m a big girl, I’m going to try to psych myself up to the saline rinses… it just isn’t going to happen overnight though.

Oh, and my new regular doctor is convinced that my endocrine system (aka hormones) is out of whack. More tests! Blood tests. Have I told you about me and blood tests? No? Let me tell you now… I don’t do well with blood tests. I have small, roly poly veins that your average phlebotomist (the person that sticks that huge needle in your arm) cannot seem to hit without digging around. I have a “one chance” policy with blood tests. If they can’t hit the vein the first time, someone else has to come in… usually the head phlebotomist. I forgot to mention this rule the last time I had a blood test. The result was that the woman missed and started digging around in my arm. I nearly passed out. See? It is bad. I know it’s psychosomatic (all in my head) but knowing doesn’t change the effect. Also, my son was with me that last time and he was terrified when I started flaking out. Doubly bad.

Anyways (oh, shut up! I wrote that for the peedants out there… like my sweet hubby who cringes when I use the bad grammar), it isn’t all bad. I have orders for bags. One of them is a new shape (new to me, is there anything truly “new” in the bag world?). I made a mock up to get a feel for the cutting and sewing requirements before I cut the fabric my client chose. It’s still not done but have a looksy:

Purse front

Purse back

I didn’t quite get the pattern right the first time (that’s why I do mock ups) so there is some gapping on either side of the flap. The handles will be attached on the sides of the purse for over the shoulder wear… this client likes a long handle. I think a long handle will look ok but a short one would look better. This fabric was kind of blah so I used fleece interfacing and sewed along the stripes to give it more texture.

I will probably put a magnetic snap on flap. I’m not sure if my client wants the flap or no flap and a zipper.

Gusseted Tote Bag tutorial…part 5

Your bag is almost complete! And it looks fantastic, doesn’t it? There are only a couple of things that we can add to finish it: a hard bottom and a closure. Neither of which you are required to do… you can take your bag now and call it done!

flower bag

Step 25: Give your gusseted bag form with a hard bottom.

Measure the depth and length of your bottom seams.

Hard bottom
Hard bottom

Step 26: Find a source of cardboard. Cut out two rectangles using the dimensions from Step 25.

Hard bottom
Hard bottom

Step 27: Paste the two pieces together.

Hard bottom

Step 28: Cut out two pieces of fabric to cover the cardboard piece. Sew these two pieces, right sides together. Leave one side open. Turn this sleeve right side out. Slip your cardboard bottom piece into the sleeve. Close the open end.

sew rectangle
bottom sleeve
(This is an example of the ever useful pillowcase method!)

Step 29: Glue the bottom piece into the bottom of the lining. I usually use hot glue.

hard bottom
There are other ways to attach the bottom piece to the lining. I have sewn a tube into the bottom seam and then slipped the cardboard into the tube. I have velcroed it to the bottom. I’m sure there are other ways to do it that I haven’t explored yet. Also, you don’t have to use cardboard, you can use heavy cardstock, plastic, wood, metal, or plexiglass… use whatever you have on hand that you can get into the required shape and dimensions. You can even buy premade hard bottom pieces.

Step 30: Closure…

Most of my bags have a button and loop closure. You sew a button onto the shell on one side of the bag, and a matching loop on the other side of the bag.

stripes out
stripes in

I have sewed them on many different ways but I almost always sew them on last… which means that you will see the knots inside the bag. I like to think it gives the bag a little more character… I am also lazy. You can make it look cleaner by sewing the button and loop onto the shell before you sew on the top seam. If you want magnetic closures, sew them onto the lining before you sew the top seam.

Closure indeed! That’s it for the Gusseted Bag Tutorial Series. I hope it has been helpful!


Mel B. left a great comment on Part 4 about another method she has learned… “You leave an opening at the bottom of the liner. Place the lining and shell together like you have, but before you put the the lining in, you place the handles inside the shell and pin the ends at the top of the bag (some excess overhangs)–then put the lining over them (into the shell)…top stitch around the top…then pull the shell and handles through.”

Yes, this is another great method. I forgot to mention in Part 4 that before you sew the shell to the lining, you can insert the handles between the two layers, with the handles going down toward the bottom of the bag and the ends at the top seam, and sew them on as you sew the top seam. You can do this whether you leave the hole in the bottom of the lining or leave it in the top seam. This is another very good pillowcase method, and the pillowcase method is generally awesome. You should definitely learn how to do this method because it is useful in so many applications.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Gusseted Tote Bag tutorial…part 4

Where are we?

Shell, check. Liner with pockets, check. Handles, check. Good! Since we have all those pieces ready, let’s put the bag together.

I hope the elves are on duty because I’m about to tell you how to put the bag together using my least favorite method. This is the method you see in most tutorials, and it works beautifullly… so master it! Then, grasshopper, you can move onto the “Cathy is a perfectionist and the pillowcase method ruffles her feathers” method. The “CIAPATPMRHF” method is going to be another mini-tutorial at a later date.

FYI: I am making all the pictures public so you can click on them.

Step 18: Place the liner inside the shell so that the right sides of each are facing.

Attach liner to shell
The picture makes so much more sense than the words.

Step 19: Sew the top of the liner and shell together. Leave a 4-inch opening on one side.

Attach liner to shell
You could also leave openings for the handles at this step.

Step 20: Reach inside the 4-inch opening. Grab a corner of the shell and pull it through the opening. This is going to turn the bag out so that only the right sides show.

Opening logic
Shell and lining attached
It’s like magic, and you didn’t even need the elves.

Step 21: Push the liner back inside the shell.

Push lining into shell
That was a nice and easy step, probably the last easy one!

Step 22: Determine where you want to insert the handles.

Marking handle location
Placing handles
I like the handles to be about 4-5 inches apart. Measure how wide your bag is, divide that number in half… this gives you the center point (my center pin is round yellow). Put a pin in the bag to locate the center. Now locate the handle insertion points. If your handles are 4″ apart, then put a pin 2″ to the right of the center pin, and 2″ to the left of the center pin (my pins are round white). These pins locate the inside edge of the handles. Make sure you mark both sides of the bag with pins. Use a seam ripper to open up the seam where you want to place the handles… make an opening slightly wider than your handles.

Did you notice I have more pins in the bag than I said you need for the handles? Those pins are optional.

I don’t like how this method of bag construction puts the seam between the liner and the shell at the very top of the bag. I want the seam to be behind the shell so I roll the seam down just a bit to the inside of the bag… the flat flower pins are holding the seam in place. If you don’t mind the seam being on top, you don’t have to roll it down.

Step 23: Insert the handles into the openings. The handles’ seams should face the inside of the bag. Pin in place.

Placing handles
The hardest part of this step is making sure you don’t twist the handles before inserting the other side.

Step 24: Make sure all your raw edges are tucked inside for a hem. Top stitch all around the bag.

Picture for Step 24: Imagine perfect top stitching around the top of the bag…

Your bag is now 95% complete. And it is so very wrinkled… ick!!! Go, use a medium hot iron to press it. Avoid melting the ribbon, and don’t use too much heat or the fusible interfacing will remelt and pucker. That is potential disaster after all your hard work.

Sit back and admire your work!

To be continued….

Gusseted Tote Bag tutorial…part 3

You now have a completed shell and a completed liner with interior pockets. It’s time to make handles!

Step 15: Cut your handle fabric and padding material.

The length should include 2 times the desired drop (distance from top of handle to top of bag) plus 2 inches to go over the shoulder plus 2 inches for handle insertion. My bag has an 8-inch drop so the length of the fabric is: 8″ + 8″ + 2″ + 2″ = 20″.

The width of the cut fabric will be about 3 times the desired width of the handle: 1.25″ + 1.25″ + 1.25″ = 3.75″. The width of the padding material will be just a shade less than the width of the handle (shade = less than 1/16″).

Handle materials
For padding material in this project, I chose fleece interfacing. You can use whatever is available. I have used quilt batting, fleece interfacing, fleece, and nothing. Padding is not only more comfortable but it also keeps the handles from pinching to a rope.

Step 16: Place padding material on the wrong side of the fabric, slightly to one side of center. Wrap the short side over the padding, pin into place. Wrap the long side over and fold under a hem. Pin this into place so that the fold is about 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the side of the handle.

Contructing handleContructing handleContructing handle

Step 17: Sew down the fold. Then sew the other side of the handle the same distance from the edge as you sewed down the fold.

Do Step 17 twice so that you have two handles… or close your eyes and let the elves do it. Either way this is a “sit back and admire your work” step!

To be continued…