MAKE IT SO (sew!)


Factors that may influence a person’s decision to buy-it rather than design-it can certainly make a case for itself when you are considering time and budget. Most of the time, the “buy-it or design-it” decision includes lack of design expertise, small volume requirements, desire for multiple sourcing, and the fact that the “creative idea” may not be reason enough for its execution. I suppose that is why I often get requests to purchase the items I design for this blog. However, in my line of work that is known as a conflict of interest. As a designer, manufacturers hire me to develop and produce lines for in-house collections and private label. Unless I start my own manufacturing company (and I don’t – I’m a terrible boss), I cannot create and sell a product in competition with my employers.

However, I am also a design educator and train many people who wish to build a career in fashion designing. This blog’s purpose, in fact, is to show people that designing isn’t a elusive talent as the fashion world would have you believe. It is a constructive transferrable skill that can be easily developed and used in converting creative ideas into reality through professional engagement and technical execution. My goal is to show you how easily it can be done.

Similarly, factors that may tilt your decision towards designing-it-yourself thus superseding the commercialism of fashion world include the uniqueness of your creativity, better quality control, or proprietary ideas that needs to be protected. In short what I am trying to say is… “it is not rocket science” – enjoy the process of creating and owning it. YOU are the designer!

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “I don’t have any good ideas”. “I have no access to special equipment”. “I don’t know how to do that”. “I’ll only make mistakes”. “My things look so home-made”.

Let me tell you, all the above are true when you are a designer. There is a lot of trial and error. There is a lot of re-makes and re-dos. There are plenty of mistakes made in the process, but as designers we call that “research and development”. In fact, if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. Value mistakes … believe it or not, mistakes can be beneficial.  They cause us to search for a different and often, a better way.  They facilitate experimentation with new materials, techniques, or styles.  Mistakes challenge you and are an important part of the design process because they provide unique opportunities for creativity. Regard them as design challenges, not mistakes.

Channel your creativity by setting goals. Let your goals grow as you grow in your knowledge of designing your own fashion. Perhaps your goal is to resolve a particular design challenge or to redesign a fashion detail and integrate it into your next prototype. Know that learning to draft your own patterns will eventually free you of “cookie-cutter” fashion and develop a personal made-to-measure style. One technique that I always use is to begin each project with a list of “what do I see” when I look at sketching up a new design. This will set up your thinking as to how to proceed with your creative project.

Let me give you an example of the thought process involved in creating and how to go about executing your vision. Designing is basically problem-solving. List what your need/want is (the problem); list what you have or know (the variables – the givens); list what results you want to achieve (the goal/outcome). Then, decide how and what methods you will use to achieve your goal.

In my case, I need a new bag (as with many professionals in my field, I suffer from a severe case of “the cobbler’s children”). Although I am a designer of fashion bags and I’m surrounded by plenty of bag styles all day, whenever I need a re-usable cloth bag, I never have one available at that moment to use. I also want something that is serviceable… functional and durable yet low-maintenance and attractive. I want something at-the-ready.

There, the want/need (the problem) is stated. Next, you want to examine the variables involved in achieving the need or want (what you know or have – the givens).

In my case, the bag needs to be made from a durable, easy-to-care-for fabric. I would look at fabric made from a synthetic fibre such as polyester or nylon. Either selection would provide a strong, durable choice. Should it be water-proof? Often I use a tote bag if the weather is inclement. Maybe I’ll check into plastic fabrics such as synthetic oilcloth or latex too.

A functional bag needs to be multi-purposed; something that can carry almost anything. I carry library books, groceries, extra clothing, my design tools. In other words, the bag needs to be large enough and strong enough to tote my things when needed. And how will I carry them? In hand, or could I carry more weight if I used my shoulder or across my chest? I would need a strong, sturdy strapping. Perhaps look at a polyester or nylon (strength) webbing to use as handles or shoulder/chest straps. Another option might be a sturdy nylon cording. It could be used to draw the bag-opening closed or act as a shoulder/chest strap a-la sling bag styling.

Should I be concerned about security or separating items? Look into inserting a zipper into the bag-opening or perhaps only on a pocket within the bag for keys and wallet. Do I need the bag to have pockets or compartments externally or internally for other things?

A bag at-the-ready. What do I do when I’m not carrying anything? Do I carry around an empty bag? This is a bit more difficult to work out. Perhaps the bag needs to roll up or fold up when not in use to make it more handy to keep it in reserve. Something that might fit into a pocket or purse (Wait! I don’t carry a purse. Ok, it will have to fit into my coat pocket). To roll up or fold up, this bag needs to be soft-sided and its material fairly thin to reduce bulk. What if the bag, when not in use, folded up into its own pocket? It may work to keep the bag contained and minuscule when not in use. A convertible tote bag! (I’ve reached my goal). Now that I’ve solved the “problem”,  it’s time to plan its execution and assembly.

Possible design ideas

Time now to go shop-the-shops. Wait, I haven’t made any sketches yet or drafted out a pattern, you ask? You could by all means, sketch up a few bag ideas based upon your wishlists and even make up a pattern to take along with you when you go search for the right fabric but keeping in mind time and budget from above; I suggest you go source your raw materials first based upon your lists instead. Sourcing is often a challenge. Availability isn’t always certain and it is easier to design for a fabric and notions in-hand, rather than hunt for something that is out-of-stock or priced out of your budget. Also remember, time is money; don’t tie up your valuable time hunting for an elusive material.  Stick to your lists yet keep an open mind when shopping.

Depending where you live, availability and selection may be a limitation but demand is making attractive fabrics for bag-making and bag fittings a popular seller for retailers so availability is growing. Fashion accessory designers have the benefit of accessing trade-only suppliers and often years in advance before these new bag-making materials become easily available at the retail level. So, you will have to work with whatever is available through your favourite retailers. In larger urban areas you may find specialty retailers like JoAnns Fabrics & Crafts that carry many of the items you will need, while in smaller towns you may have to depend upon catalogue mail-order, such as A Great Notion. Many suppliers can be found on-line through Etsy® , Ebay®, and the like, offering variety and quality in small quantities while allowing you to eliminate the “middle man” by buying direct from the source.

Once you have your raw materials, sketch a few drawings of your prototype bag with all the features and styling you planned from your lists and based upon your purchases. This will provide a visual record of your ideas for as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It will also be beneficial when drafting the bag pattern and its assembly. For instance, I decided to use a thin synthetic fabric (water-repellent nylon ripstop) to make my bag durable yet foldable for storage. To further strengthen my bag-styling so that I can carry hefty items, I planned to use French seaming in my construction as each seam is double-stitched adding more strength to the seams and the seam finish is neat on the interior as well on the exterior. No need to line the bag and the stitching keeps everything flat (think thin), making it easy to fold up. My final acquisitions were a reversible zipper for an exterior pocket and thick nylon webbing for the bag handles.

Also, an important reminder to true your pattern-draft and proof your idea by making up a mock-up of your design. This will give you time to practice the assembly of your bag and find any flaws in its design. This step in the process is even more paramount if you’re limited in raw materials.

The pattern itself is based upon a simple flat grid, which fits into a long rectangle, of which the size depends on the desired depth of the style (in my case 4 1/2″). So my overall bag dimensions are 17 1/2” high (length) by 16” wide (width) by 4 1/2” deep (depth). This will give me a roomy bag cavity volume of 1,260 cubic inches which should carry a reasonable amount of items and weight.


Final Prototype & how it folds into its pocket

The convertible aspect of my bag design is achieved by using the Rule of Thirds and attaching a small reversible-zippered pocket to the exterior of the bag. The pocket does double-duty by providing a secure pocket for house-keys and wallet while acting as the storage compartment for the tote bag when not in use. The overall dimensions of the pocket are 4 1/4” (h) by 5 1/4” (w) by 1” (d) and is centered on the front section of the bag. The tote bag when flattened, folds vertically into thirds towards the centre, then the layers fold horizontally two times from the bottom and two times from the top, both resting on top of the pocket which is itself reversible and wraps around the stacked layers. To contain the tote bag, the pocket zips closed. The smaller unit can now fit easily into a coat pocket or purse, ready to be used.

When you consider your time and budget, influencing factors like design expertise, small production runs,  sourcing and availability, plus the actual making of the product are all but small parts of the overall design process. Resolve each part, one at a time, and then make an informed decision to either buy-it or design-it-yourself.


Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Ideas, Design Insight, Design Inspiration



As handbag designers, we love working with textile prints and patterns… and, surface prints for use in fashion and home decor fabrics offer glorious opportunity for expanding your styling creativity and establishing a marketable skill-set.

Fashion bag designers can utilize the same methods used by textile designers to produce dynamic patterns and textures for their bag designs that will eventually turn into a beloved tangible item of beauty. To get ideas flowing let’s use the possibilities of fabric patterns and prints that focuses on some of the popular pattern repeats and how to match them to create unity and harmony in your designs.

Types of Fabric Patterns:

Here are three basic pattern repeats that textile designers use. With these basic repeating pathways, many hybrids of pattern design are created by combining two or more in unique ways.

For my demonstration, let’s use the motif of the fleur-de-lis (sometimes spelled “fleur-de-lys”), a stylized lily (in French, fleur means “flower”, and lis means “lily”) that is used as a decorative design or symbol, at one and the same time, religious, political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic, and symbolic”, especially in French heraldry.


The Block Repeat

The block repeat is the simplest style of repeat. It is simply formed by stacking the original repeat in a basic grid:


The block repeat can have an amateurish look if used in the wrong situation yet it can look great with simpler, more geometric motifs.

Brick/Half-Brick Repeat

Next up, we have the brick/half-brick repeat. You’ll notice that the motifs are arranged like bricks on a house – they are in a horizontal row, and then the next row is offset to create a staggered look. The terms half-brick and brick can be used interchangeably unless the offset of the later rows is not exactly half of the preceding row’s motifs. In that case, you would just use the term, brick.

Here’s a simple example of a half-brick repeat:


Brick/half-brick repeats are used very often in fabric design. The motifs can be exclusive of each other (as shown above) or have some overlap when they are organized.

Drop/Half-Drop Repeat

The drop or half-drop repeat is very similar to the brick/half-brick, but the motifs are offset vertically instead of horizontally, like so:


As with the brick/half-brick, the terms drop and half-drop can be used interchangeably unless the offset isn’t 50% of the original motif. You will most often see 50% offsets, but smaller or  larger ones certainly aren’t unheard of.

Drop/half-drop repeats are another very common type of repeat in fabric and surface design.


Figuring the Vertical Repeat:

If you plan to use a fabric with a printed design, you will need to match the design when you join two or more widths together.  First you must determine the height of the pattern repeat which is called a vertical repeat.  Simply measure from the top or base of the motif in one spot, down to the same spot in the design, when it appears again in the length of the yardage. That distance will be the vertical pattern repeat and is an integral part of the fabric design. For every cut-length of fabric required for your bag design, you will need to add 1 vertical repeat (amounts vary so measure the repeat) to the overall yardage. The distance of a repeat can often be indicated on the fabrics selvedge by dots or crosshairs.


Keep in mind that the overall pattern on all bag designs should match on front, back and on gussets. 

Cutting the Panel Widths:

After you have figured your vertical repeat, you need to determine the cut-length of all of your section widths. Luckily if you are using upholstery-weight fabrics to create your bag design, often you are able to get more than one section width from the fabric’s width as most are on average about 54-inches wide. The larger the shape of the bag or the more intricate the pattern design is, the more waste there will be. Clever planning will allow you to use the un-used fabric portions for facings, handles, and other similar details in your design.

When matching most pattern repeats, your cut-length per section will be larger than you actually need.  This will allow you to travel upward or downward along the seamline to align the overall pattern. Once the seams are sewn, you can trim the excess fabric away. However, it is best to sew the widths together first and then trim the panels to your desired length. For instance, say you want to design an exterior pouch pocket on the center front section of the bag. When cutting the fabric, you would not know where the motif or pattern repeat began nor ended on the pocket. The only thing you would know is that you want the motif or pattern to be centered on the pocket. Therefore you would cut the pocket first, then the remaining top portion of the center panel to size.


The diagram shows the pouch pocket and the top panel section with an extension along its bottom edge

Then, cut the side front panels a bit larger to match with the center panel. Remember to cut mirrored images. Sew your widths together, making sure you align and match the vertical pattern repeat.  Most decorative fabrics are made so that the pattern matches at or just inside the selvage.  If you line up the pattern on each width of fabric at the selvages (right sides together) and stitch right along or just inside the selvage, the pattern should match.


The diagrams shows the pocket in the center panel with the left selvedge on the right, and the right selvedge on the left.

You may trim the excess from the bottom or the top of the panels or cut to size and shape required. The actual matching of the pattern motif can be aligned in a variety of ways. In the examples below the solid line represents the seam join.

Random Match

A random match is one in which the pattern matches no matter how adjoining panels are positioned. This means you can cut and stitch each panel of fabric without having to match it up horizontally across the cloth.


Straight Match

A straight match is one in which the design elements match on adjoining panels. Every cut panel will start and end at the same point within the pattern repeat.


Drop Match

A drop match is one in which there is a vertical drop between the matching design elements. The number of panels cut before a panel is repeated is dependent on the type of drop match. or crosses.


So there you have it…. fabric patterns and basic ways of matching the repeating surface design. There are times when matching the repeat in a fabric pattern isn’t crucial such a small print or a geometric one. Though you DO cut into a pattern repeat, it is not “lost” when you sew two pieces together. You still get the tiny daisies or the polkadots. The same may be said of “abstract” styles. When cut pieces are sewn together, it still looks abstract in appearance and scale. However, when you follow your pattern-draft and cut through a sizable motif or image printed on that fabric’s surface, say the large butterfly or cabbage rose, ideally as designers we want the other half of that butterfly or rose to align with its counterpart to regain the whole motif of the surface design to make the final product’s appearance, a harmonious one and pleasing to the eye. Use these design pointers for matching surface patterns of your favourite fashion fabrics and expanding your styling creativity to create truly beautiful handbags.

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If you’re excited to build new bag-making and sewing skills, you’ve come to the right place! Join me for my online class, “MAKING LEATHER BAGS with Don Morin” and learn what you love with video lessons you can watch anytime, forever.

I am also recommending some of my favourite bag design classes from my Craftsy colleagues … Brett Bara, Lisa Lam, Deby Coles, Joan Hawley, Janelle MacKay, Angela Wolf, and Annie Unrein.   They all have excellent styling designs and tricks of the trade to share with you to make professional looking bags and purses. You may even want to try making one up in leather!

Most of all, check out my student projects gallery and be inspired by the beautiful bag creations made from fellow crafters like you.

With the holiday gifting season upon us and the fast-approaching  BLACK FRIDAY, now is the time to select from the hundreds of online classes offered by Craftsy to give to your favourite crafter and stuff a stocking.



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FALL 2016: A Unity of Strength, Confidence and Complexity

The desire for tranquility, strength, and optimism have inspired a Fall 2016 color palette that is led by the Blue family.

Along with anchoring earth tones, exuberant pops of vibrant colors also appear throughout the collections. Transcending gender, these unexpectedly vivacious colors in our Fall 2016 palette act as playful but structured departures from your more typical fall shades.

Blue skies represent constancy as they are always above us. Grays give a feeling of stability, Red tones invite confidence and warmth, while the hot Pinkish Purples and Spicy Mustard Yellows suggest a touch of the exotic.

Leatrice Eiseman

Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute™


For more insights on this season’s new colour palette from Pantone™, visit online at:


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Craftsy is getting a makeover! How they grow up so fast!

Craftsy released a brand new site relaunch today, with a sparkling new site & brand identity.

Craftsy has evolved quite a bit since my start with them as an affiliate in 2013. They were are my solution to all my followers who were asking for design books or videos authored by me. Craftsy made it possible for me to deliver regardless of my hectic schedule.  And now with hundreds of classes to choose from, Craftsy has decided it too needed its site’s original platform to be a better fit for the crafting community at-large. So today, we see a new Craftsy… a Craftsy 2.0!


The Craftsy group is lucky to have incredible followers who inspire with their passion and creativity. In speaking with many of their members, Craftsy realized that by integrating project ideas, learning, and supplies in one place, they could make it easier and more fulfilling for members to get down to what they love to do: to create and make!



Think of Craftsy as the hostess of the world’s largest crafting party.

As a Craftsy affiliate, I want you… to create! Maybe it’s a sweater, maybe it’s a quilt, maybe it’s just a great big beautiful leather tote, like the one I demonstrate in “MAKING LEATHER BAGS with Don Morin(shameless plug 😀).

leather bag coolage

That creative itch you can’t ignore? They can help scratch it. My Craftsy colleagues and I are here to fuel the joy of self-expression — to share ideas and help your unique creativity bloom. We speak the language of colour, design, texture, flavour and above all, inspiration — and we want everyone in on the fun. Because when you create something you never thought possible, we’re just as excited as you are.

So join in! Let’s celebrate their new look and make something amazing together.

If Craftsy were a person like me, we would be…

Inviting: We like to look at the world as one big craft-along, and everyone’s invited.

Excited to Learn & Share: We love discovering the next new pattern, the next new colour, the next new recipe, the next new beautiful idea. And lucky for you, Craftsy is big on spreading the word.

Encouraging & Empowering: The best creative adventures usually involve a few messes and mistakes — so go ahead and enjoy ‘em. You will only be the wiser.

Creative & Original: We live for colour, flavour, texture, pattern and design — and it shows in everything we do.

Lighthearted & Playful: Ultimately, Craftsy is in the business of fun. So they never take ourselves too seriously.

Knowledgeable: Craftsy instructors have got lots of experience, so you can count on us for smart tips, tools and troubleshooting.



Along with the many creative crafts offered, I enjoy reading the Craftsy blog. There are so many wonderful freebies to treat you to your passion. Be the first to enjoy new tutorials, resources, contests, giveaways & more. It’s all free!

And lastly, this one is probably my most-favourite — the makers’ gallery, where I get to see all the wonderful things you’ve have made.

Whether you’re a crafting newbie or a seasoned professional, come make yourself at home. Try a class, start a new project or just look around if you’re curious. You’ll find many of my favourite Craftsy classes on my STORE page with my personal links to them all and you can follow them anywhere, anytime…. they even have a Craftsy App for iOS and Android. Furthermore, if you are not completely satisfied with your selection, Craftsy will return your money — guaranteed. Either way, we’re pretty sure you’ll find a friend. Have fun with the new Craftsy, create and make something amazing!

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September 10, 2016 · 2:44 pm



With September being National Sewing Month, I’ve been sitting here at my desk, my iPod touch playing my tunes, while trying to come up with some bon mots to inspire you to sew or for many of us (me too) to return to sewing. Thoughts of possibly how to set-up a timetable to sew in our stressful and busy lives, or perhaps seeking a new project to reboot our sewing mojo.  Suddenly out of the blue, my playlist shuffles to Lou Reed’s A Perfect Day”… one of my all-time favourites. I always like to have music playing while I sketch or design. Towards the end of the song, everyone chimes in… “you’re gonna reap just what you sow” but I hear, “you’re gonna reap just what you sew” and I think that is what we need,  that ‘buzz.’ That rush of pride in a project that fits like a dream. This is about self-esteem and feeling good about your abilities. Will you have the determination to create today? Isn’t that what sewing is all about?

Creating is a choice that asks you to fully be YOU. In everyday life, relationships, parenting, working a crappy job, doing mindless chores, wherever life finds you, your happiness will hinge on how creative you will allow yourself to be.

I choose to sew. I choose create. This is what I stand for.  It makes me happy!

To sew and create is to simply step into how I am meant to be. If I’m going to truly be someone, I better damn well be comfortable being myself.

Creating is a courageous struggle against “the way it’s always been.” To bring forth something inside you that’s been waiting for its chance to speak, to influence, to be heard.

To truly do good design is to pay attention. We’re living in a wonderland of design. To create is to simply take notes. Look beyond the world around you and observe.

Sewing for sewing sake is lack-luster; it’s static yet it can elate you with its results. That is the joy!

I don’t want to just listen to music. I want to hear it. To feel it. To let it seep into my bones like a sponge. I don’t want to listen to a thousand songs. I want to truly sing just one, … possibly “A Perfect Day”.

It’s easy to follow given instructions. It’s hard to create your own. To create is to take the best of who we are and let it find a home within a medium. Mine just happens to be textiles. What’s yours?

Creating is to infuse our purpose, personality, and potential into the work set before us. Luckily, I get to work at my dream job. To live as an un-creative is to mindlessly consume life like it’s a tray of packaged cafeteria food.

The world will be inherited by those who can see it differently than everyone else. I don’t want to design pretty things and sew them together. The only way to make something truly unique is to first relinquish what everyone else perceives it to be and make it your own. Sewing is not my profession but it is the method I use that allows me to create. Creating, at the core, is telling the truth. It’s honesty at its rawest form. It’s scrapping your knuckles. It’s wiping the tear-drop. To create is to present something to the world that you’ve been 100% present within.


Creating is not impartial. When you create, you are taking a side. You are making intentional choices. You are taking a stand. You are committing through form, medium, brush, song, written word. Every choice is creating meaning. Every creative choice is arguing a point without having to argue.

It’s hard to create something new if you’re hoping to be validated in the process. Don’t expect everything to go smoothly, don’t expect everything to be perfect. Try new things, try new ways of doing things. Experiment and solve problems that arise. Maybe your last make(s) left you feeling flat? It didn’t turn out like you’d expected and you missed that rush of satisfaction that we all crave. I’ve been there plenty of times, especially when I first started out and most of my sewing ended up in the bin.

So be gentle with yourself. This is the most important rule, in my opinion. We are our own worst critics, and it’s easy to fall into the pit of “I can’t” or “I should have”.  I wish I could remember who told me: “Don’t should on yourself.” (say it out loud – get it?). ‘Should’ is such a helpless word. The past has passed; there’s no changing it and no use in thinking about what you should have done. Think instead of what you will do now.

Try to create new habits with a gentle heart. Return to sewing if you currently are not consistently sewing at all, maybe make your goal to schedule it as you do for chores and other obligations in your hectic life. Once you get into the rhythm of making time for yourself, even if it’s only 20 minutes at a time, up the ante for your goal and try taking time for yourself five days a week. Before you know it, you’ll be taking those 20 minutes daily, feeling efficient, and seeing progress on your formerly stagnant sewing projects.

As a designer you have to “go there” even if you have no idea how you’re going to get out. Embrace sewing and feed your passion for it. You’re gonna reap what you sew!



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