DESIGNING WITH THE BEAST

Handbags made of fur, whether real or faux, are picking up pace as a fashion accessory. There was a time when fur was restricted to clothing as coats or jackets. Then, it graduated and became associated with boots. Now, fur and fur-trimmings are going a step ahead and making a style statement on your arm. Fur totes are big this winter!

Whether you are refurbishing Gram’s old fur stole or found a bargain of a sale on pastel-dyed faux fur, the principles of designing with it are much the same. Designing with fur is slightly different than designing with fashion fabrics, yet it is sewn much similar to that of other leather goods. While the end result is worth the effort, knowing how to handle this material is essential.

Creating A Pattern For Fur

Let the beauty of the fur shine! Create a simple bag design with limited seams and no excess pleats, gathers, or darts. Eliminate all surface detailing and keep hardware to a minimum. Use a cut-edge finish or a turned finish as the handbag’s construction method. Keep the styling lines simple in design as all the construction is done by hand.

Examining Your Goods

When using a fur pile, you need to check to make sure the fur will lie in the proper direction on your design. Hold the fur up and look to see where the hair naturally falls. For example, if you want to make a handbag, the fur would probably be flowing down so you want to cut your pieces with this natural flow in mind. Take some time as well  to comb the fur and to make sure it is clean of any debris. I often mark an “arrow” on the backside of the material to show the direction of the pile.

Some words of caution are in order if you wish to use real fur. When refurbishing a used fur coat, be sure that the pelts are soft and subtle. It is important that the leather side is in good condition. If at all possible, bring it to a furrier and ask if it is in good enough condition to be remodeled.

If you are buying the garment from a private party or a consignment shop make sure it can be returned after you have it checked out by your local furrier. I have had many people come in with a coat they bought on e-bay® that began ripping as soon as they handled it. I hate having to tell them it isn’t repairable. The old saying “a penny saved a pound foolish” can happen if you are not careful when buying used furs.  Let me assure you though that there are so many handbag styles that can be done to refurbish used furs that you already own or you can find gently used furs for sale.

The ornamental nature of faux fur provides you with a creative palette to design attractive handbag designs and some styles feature many characteristics similar to natural fur, for instance, guard hairs, these hairs enhance the look and feel and provide realism to your fur accessory. Faux fur, also known as fun fur or fake fur, is made from synthetic fibres including blends of acrylic and modacrylic polymers derived from petroleum, and is designed to resemble fur yet is a fabric, making it is relatively easy to sew. With today’s technological advances in weaving, the faux furs not only look and feel like natural animal pelts but come with the added benefit of being available in a multitude of vibrant fashion colours.

Make Your Mark

On the backside of the hide, you will make markings which follow the pattern of the handbag you want to make. Make these markings in pencil and dark enough so that you can easily see them. If the fur is dark, you might need to use tailor’s chalk or chalk wheel, which will stand out. Be sure to lay all of your pattern pieces in the same direction. Remember that the pile is one-way, so mark out the pattern pieces from top to bottom, in the “hair down” direction.

A flat layout also means you need to duplicate any pattern pieces that would normally be placed along the fold, and other pieces must be cut out as mirror images (ie: flip pattern pieces that require “cut 2X” for front and back sections, or left-side / right-side sections).

Due to the thickness of fur, I recommend weights (metal washers work great) to hold your pattern pieces in place. Dressmaker’s pins tend to get buried and distort the paper, causing your cut-out piece to be distorted.

 

How to Cut Fur for Sewing

Once you have marked out the patterns for the fur pieces, you can begin to cut; DO NOT use scissors! Only cut one layer of fabric at a time, with the wrong side facing up.

Take an X-acto knife or a razor blade and move this sharp edge along the markings you created. Carefully cut, just the backing of the fur; do not cut the fur itself. Once you have cut through as much as you can, then gently pull the piece of fur apart. This will allow you to keep the fur hairs in place.

Gently “comb” the fur on the edges of the cut sections towards the center of the fabric piece.

Fur Prep

Both real fur and faux fur have “give” and edges may stretch out of shape when handled. In such a case, taping the edges will solve that problem as well as provide a secure edge to sew.

Using narrow stay-tape (½-inch or 12 mm wide), baste the tape along the outer edges of the fur pieces. (fig.1)

Use long stitch lengths and a single-strand of heavy-duty thread.

For a desired finished edge on fur pile, sew a wide stay tape (¾ -inch or 20 mm wide) along the taped edge of the fur. This time the tape is applied on the hair side of the fur and the edge is whipstitched, encasing both tapes and the raw edge. (fig. 2) To complete, fold over the wider tape over the stitched edge and baste it to the back of the fur with long basting stitches. Do not worry, the hair will hide the long stitches and the finished edge is neat. (fig. 3)

When the fur has been properly taped, the stitches will say in place without trouble. Make sure the hide is completely prepared for sewing before you begin.

To give body to the silhouette and to protect the bag interior, you may want to interface the fur material. A needle-punched polyester fleece fabric is ideal for this and is available in a variety of weights and thickness. Hand-baste the fleece to the back of the hide or fabric with long stitches. For a desired finished edge to the fur, tape the edge as described above and fold over the tape to encased the raw edge of the fleece and baste down with long stitches.

Sewing Fur

Sewing with fur, whether real or faux, is a bit different from sewing with leather or fabric. It is actually quite forgiving. Sewing fur begins and ends on the back of the fur pieces themselves, where stitches are unnoticeable. Large stitches can be taken yet remain hidden due to the fact that the fur hairs hide all seams and stitches.

Overcast stitching and fine blanket stitches are what you use when sewing fur. Remember, fur patterns do not have any seam allowance; you will want to place these stitches in by hand along the very edge of the cut pieces. Home sewing machines are not powerful enough to sew through a thick pile and can damage the material. Short-haired furs will need as fine a stitching as possible or they will show on the face side. Take time to look at your stitches after you put them in place to see if they show on the face side. Or you could plan to have your stitches fall underneath a patch of long hair, hiding them completely. Just as in any leather project, use clothes pins or paper clips to hold the pieces to each other when necessary.


For real fur, use a thin glover’s hand-needle. For faux fur, use a medium (size 5) sharps hand-needle. An ideal thread to use for either fur material is a single strand of nylon finishing thread. If you cannot find it at your tailor’s supply, a polyester upholstery thread will do the job.

For hand sewing, use a fine blanket stitch. It is similar to a chain stitch, in that a loop is formed under the needle point before the thread is pulled tight. Work thread from left to right on horizontal parallel lines. Bring the needle out at A on the bottom line, then insert at B at top line, slightly to the right of A. Come up again at C directly below B and carry the thread under the needle. Then proceed to the next stitch, D and repeat at E.

The stitches are worked evenly along the very edge of the fur, keeping the height and the distance between the legs of the stitch the same.

When assembling, butt the edges of two fur sections, with face sides (hair) together and align along the taped raw edges. Push any fur hairs that are sticking out of the seam to the hair side of the fabric. Begin to sew the taped edges together, using a small, even blanket stitch. Keep to the very edge of the two layers and catch the stay-tape as you overcast the seams together, poking any stray hairs that may be caught in the seaming. Avoid the temptation to trim them away with your scissors (it will create a bald spot). The stitches do not have to be tiny; just try to keep them uniform and evenly-spaced. Begin and end each seam with a back-tack to secure the ends.

After you’ve sewn a seam, from the face side, pull the hairs out of the stitching with the point of an awl or comb the fur to fluff it up and make the seam less noticeable. Most seams will be invisible from the face side if you tease the fur or pile out along the stitching line. Remember to take the time to repeat the combing procedure for each step. It is much harder and more damaging to try and comb a junction of four seams than to do it at each step.

Stitch the pieces together as your sequence of assembly dictates.

Finishing

To join two pile-covered edges invisibly from the face side of the fur, work a ladder stitch as shown. When the thread is tightened, the stitches should be virtually invisible. It’s much easier to work this stitch with a fine curved needle and a single strand of nylon finishing thread but a regular sharps hand-needle will do. It’s called the ladder stitch because the stitches look like rungs of a ladder until you pull the stitches tight to close the seam. Pull every four or five stitches as you stitch. Knot the end of the thread and start from inside the opening so that the knot will be hidden. It is easiest to follow the direction of the pile as you sew up the seam with a ladder stitch.

 

Due to its nature, fur is thick and dense. Avoid using hardware that is small or dainty; it will get “lost” in the fur hairs. Magnetic clasps work better than dome-type snap closures. When adding hardware, reinforce the fur backing at the hardware placement point with some fleece interfacing and use an awl to “punch” a hole into the backing. On faux fur, a dab of fray check should be used at these spots. Anchor plates or buttons are ideal for taking the strain off the fabric at these locations too.

To prevent hairs getting caught in zipper teeth, machine-stitch the zipper to strips of leather or durable ribbon. The leather can then be overcasted onto the fur edge by hand.

For carrying straps, avoid anything that may rub against the fur and cause bald spots. Leather strapping is a ideal companion for fur, and you might consider metal chain or velvet rouleau cording as alternative options. Handbag straps can be made adjustable and/or detachable with swivel snap latches and D-rings. A 42-inch (106 cm) length will allow you to wear in over the shoulder, across the chest, or doubled up to tote on your arm.

Let the fur’s appearance be your design element; it doesn’t need a lot of complex detailing or hardware. To counterbalance the natural shades of fur, here is your chance to add a lining that is fun, beautiful, and in a vibrant colour. The lining can be sewn up by machine and can feature pockets and compartments for stowing your belongings. Use a durable lining fabric to accommodate wear ‘n tear. Often I back mine with fusible knit interfacing or flannel to give a bit more protection. Drop-in lining interiors are the easiest to construct and can be slip-stitched into place.

 

Here is a tutorial for designing your own faux fur handbag.

9 Comments

Filed under Design Insight, Design Techniques

9 responses to “DESIGNING WITH THE BEAST

  1. nehmah66

    Thank you, Don for this article. It’s been quite a while since I have used fur real or fake for trims. Your instructions and illustrations are a great help. Cordially, Nehmah-who wishes you a peaceful 2011

  2. This is a great post with lots of information on sewing fur. I have been admiring fur purses, but now I am inspired to make one of my own using some fur remnants I have. Thanks

  3. thanks for the post! I’m interested in everything abt bags! A few ones in my head are really hoping to take shape soon!

  4. I wish I had your tips before I did my faux fur projects; I had never sewn fur before and there was definitely a learning curve. Instead of making an entirely new bag, I took an old worn one bought secondhand for less than a buck and sewed a fur cover for it. You can see the results here:

    http://shortofsomething.blogspot.com/2010/12/diy-faux-fur-clutch.html

    I still have some fur left and will be sure to put your tips to use when I figure out what to make with it!

  5. Pingback: Furcrafting with Rabbit Hides | DirtArtful

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