Sewing bags should not be difficult and frustrating.
You don't have to be an expert seamstress to make a bag.
If you make a habit in following the little tips shown below, you will improve your bag sewing skills, you will sew beautiful and long-lasting bags and you will enjoy your sewing experience.
LEARN and SEW!
1. Gather your supplies
Read the pattern you are following and gather everything you need.
Stopping your work because you don't have what you need causes frustration and lowers your productivity.
2. Sewing Machine
Sewing bags means stitching through multiple layers of fabric and interfacing, that's why it's important to have your machine in good working shape.
If you are not sure that your machine is able to handle all that bulk, just make a test before you start making up your bag.
A sturdy, industrial machine makes sewing bags easier, but I successfully sew all my bags with my Pfaff Select domestic sewing machine.
3. How to choose your fabrics
Use always quality fabric and interfacing for your bags. Do not ruin your work by using poor materials.
You can use any fabric for your outer bags (as long as you pair it with the right interfacing) but heavyweight fabrics make more durable bags than the bags made out of lightweight fabric.
Due to the huge variety of quilt weight cotton fabrics, this is what I use most for my bags!
If you have trouble in choosing your fabrics, just select two or three fabrics from the same fabric line. You probably need one accent fabric/main fabric - usually for the front of the bag, and other fabric (or two fabrics) for the sides and back panel, maybe for the straps, too. These fabric should not compete for attention with the main fabric- simple patterns work best (stripes, gingham, dots, solids, batiks...).
Fussy cutting works great for bags. If there are pieces of your bags you want to emphasize (maybe the flap, pockets or maybe the whole front), fussy cut motifs from your fabric.
- Pre-wash your fabrics, especially the heavyweight fabric.
- Press well all your fabrics; use starch if you need help in getting rid of all the wrinkles.
4. Choosing the right interfacing
If you follow a pattern, you LOVE the look of the bag, and you want to replicate it, use the interfacing recommended by the pattern designer.
Of course, you can substitute it with the interfacing of your choice, but following the instructions is the easiest road to take.
Read this Interfacing Guide to find out what interfacing I use most in my bags.
5. Interfacing hack
Even when I use fusible interfacing, I like to sew ("quilt") through the fabric +interfacing sandwich. This stitching keeps the layers together better than only the fusible glue. It doesn't take too much time and even if you think it is unnecessary, you will see its power when you wash your bag!
It works for heavyweight interfacing, like Pellon Peltex or Decovil.
Usually I use the walking foot to stitch wavy lines; the free motion quilting foot can be used, as well.
6. Quilted Bags
When you don't have the right interfacing on hand, use batting instead and sew a quilted bag.
You can use a regular batting (cotton or felt-like batting is the best) or a fusible batting or fusible fleece. Usually I use cotton batting and a basting spray to keep the layers together.
There is one little trick that makes your bags look more professional (it’s not like you cut out a piece from a quilt and turned it into a bag!). This trick is simple:
Before adding the batting to your fabric, fuse a lightweight interfacing (woven or non-woven) to the wrong side of your fabric. This interfacing makes the pieces sturdier and flattens the quilting a little so you don't end up with a puffy quilting.
You can add a backing fabric as well, if your top fabric is light to medium weight (like quilt weight cotton). The backing could be a heavyweight fabric (like duck cloth or denim), it depends on the weight of all your layers.
You can quilt home decor fabric, as well. Skip the backing here or maybe use just a lightweight fabric.
Make your pieces a little bigger and when the quilting is done, trim the pieces to the desired size.
How to quilt the pieces of your bag.
7. Coated fabrics
Are you avoiding coated fabric, like laminated cotton, oilcloth, faux leather, because is sticking to your presser foot as you sew? I successfully sew faux leather bags with the walking foot.
There are other feet that do the job: rolling foot, teflon coated foot.
If you don't own any of these feet, try to cover your regular foot with a strip of scotch tape or slide a strip of tissue paper between the fabric and presser foot. Tear the paper away when you finish the seam.
8. Secure the seams
When necessary, secure the ends of seams with a few back stitches (reverse stitches).
During construction, you will manipulate your pieces more or less, depending on the complexity of your bag pattern. The stress you put on the seams can cause the ends of seams to pull apart. Avoid this, save time and make your bag stronger by properly securing the end of seams.
9. Reinforce seams
During the construction of your bag, identify the weak points and double those seams.
Double the seams that keep the bag together (the bottom and side seams) and when attaching the straps to the bag.
The straps suffer the most wear and tear, so double the topstitching done on straps or use a heavyweight thread.
10. Use the walking foot
I have a Pfaff machine that has an integrated dual feed system- this is my walking foot. I keep this system engaged all the time - from piecing patches for my quilts to sewing bags.
It helps feeding evenly the multiple layers of fabrics through the machine. It makes sewing more accurate.
Topstitching is not only a functional stitching, it's a decorative stitching as well, because you see it on the right side of your bag.
I topstitch the top edges of my bags, the edges of pockets, the flaps, the straps, when adding a top band to the bag.
Tips for topstitching like a pro:
- A heavy polyester thread (sometimes labeled ''topstitching thread'') makes the seams more durable.Use this thread in the needle and pair it with a polyester all purpose thread in the bobbin.
- The topstitch needle is of great help, as it has a larger eye to accommodate the thicker thread.
- Use longer stitches than the regular length you use for joining the pieces of your bag.
- Use thread in the color of your fabric - any little imperfection will be highly visible if you use thread in a contrasting color.
12. Jeans needles
Sewing through thick layers of fabrics and interfacing requires a strong, heavy needle.
My favorite needle is the Jeans needle and it comes in this big size, too: 110/18; this size is very useful for very thick layers of fabric.
My favorite zipper is the nylon coil zipper, it's easy to sew over teeth, when needed.
I avoid zippers with big plastic teeth, if I have to stitch over teeth. They are great for the closure of big bags, though.
Nylon coil zipper.
Plastic molded zipper.
14. Zipper foot
While you can sew zippers with the regular foot, a zipper foot makes this job easier and the result looks professional!
If you are afraid of sewing zippers, this foot helps a lot!!
15. Piping and faux piping
If you don't have a piping foot, use faux piping- you can easily attach it to any edge.
It's just a narrow strip of fabric, cut on bias, folded on the lengthwise and then stitched along the desired edge, with the regular foot.
16. Pins versus clips
The pins keep the layers together better than clips but there are times when it's hard to penetrate multiple layers with pins and then these clips come to the rescue.
The clips are the best option when sewing coated fabrics, leather, faux leather, suede, as the pins may leave permanent holes in these materials.
17. Press as you go
Don’t leave all of the pressing until the bag is finished- there will be areas you can't properly reach with the iron.
You will spend more time for the "final pressing" and your seams will not be perfectly pressed. Press after every single seam.
- Use steam and press the seams open (whenever possible) as you sew the bag together.
- In order to avoid the shiny look of fabric when pressing, use a press cloth.
- Do not press over pins!!
18. Tailor's ham!
The tailor's ham (a little cushion tightly stuffed) is especially great for pressing the curved seams. Stick them inside your bag and they will help you press your bag without burning yourself with the iron. I still don't have one, I use this hack all the time: a rolled towel!
19. Curved seams
Once you join two pieces with curved edges, do not turn the piece right side out without clipping first into the seam allowances, as shown.
20. Trim bulky seam allowances
To reduce bulk, trim away excess seam allowance from one side of the seam. Be very careful not to cut the seam.
Trim the seam allowances at corners and then poke out the corners. This is such an easy step that makes a huge difference. If you skip this step, the corners will have an unprofessional look.
Use a point turner or chopstick; I usually use a pen!
22. Hard bottom
A hard bottom on a bag makes the bag more stable and durable, adding at the same time a touch of polish.
As an example, for this faux leather bag, I did not use interfacing on the front and back panel of the bag, but I did added a layer of heavyweight interfacing on the bottom piece.
If you are not happy with the structure and body of your outer bag, use home decor fabric for lining or add interfacing to your light to medium weight fabric.
I use often the home decor fabric from Ikea for lining.
24. Reinforce the magnetic snaps
If you do not add a protection to the magnetic snaps, over time, they will make holes in the lining.
See here how I insert magnetic snaps. Those sturdy scraps are the corners cut out from a boxed-bottom bag. They are already interfaced. A simple piece of fabric is not enough.
Do not make bags without pockets; add at least a slip pocket inside your bag.
A zippered pocket is the best, as it keeps the stuff inside it safe. Add it to the outside bag, on the back panel, or inside, on the lining.
Fuse interfacing to the fabric used for pockets, if the fabric is lightweight.
If you want to learn more:
If you make a shoulder bag, the width of the straps is so important! If they are too wide, you can't keep the bag on the shoulder. If the straps are too narrow, they will hurt your shoulder.
If in doubt, measure the straps of a favorite bag and use that width.
A large bag needs wider straps than a regular size bag.
27. Free arm sewing
Can you remove the bed of your sewing machine? In this way, the sewing machine is converted from flat-bed sewing mode to free-arm sewing mode. It’s a big help when you have to stitch tubular items, like the hem of sleeves or pants.
This mode is also useful when you have to attach the lining to a bag. You have a tube that you wrap around the free arm.
I also use this feature of the sewing machine for the final topstitching around the top edge of a bag.
I do this for all the bags, no matter the size; while the big bags could be stitched the regular way, for small bags, the free arm is an invaluable help.
28. Washing bags
I would not spend precious time to sew a bag that can't be washed. So I make sure the fabrics I use can be washed and the construction of the bag is strong. I want my bags resist to multiple washing cycles!
Wash by hand if you use delicate fabrics. Hang it to dray. Usually I pull out the lining and hang the bag on a line from the bottom of the lining.
I wash many of my bags by machine.
If you plan to use and wash a bag frequently, remember that the quilted bag is the easiest bag to press after washing.
29. How to sew mini bags
What to do with fabric, batting, or interfacing scraps? Sew mini bags!
You can sew bags in any size using the big bag patterns you already own.
If your pattern is digital (pdf), just print all the templates at a reduced scale (60% from a regular size bag makes a pretty size for a little girl).
If you have a paper pattern (not digital, the templates are printed on large sheets of paper), to reduce their size, you have to take the sheets to a copy shop and ask for a reduced scale printing.
If the pattern requires you to add seam allowances, you print the templates at the reduced size and then add the seam allowances as instructed in the pattern.
ESCAPE THE ORDINARY!
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