Category Archives: Design Ideas



Something a little different from the design studio today. Instead of talking about designing our own fashion bags I have a quick and easy tutorial about creating your own holiday gift bags. My sister and I used striped ticking and stencilled some crashcloth from her quilting classes to make our gift bags this past weekend but you can use almost anything fabric you want. Think holly jolly and ’tis the season. It was only an after-thought that I think we should have lined them as well. Live and learn, I say! 

My sister and I were reminiscing about how Mom would have all us kids on holiday wreath duty at this time of year when we lived on the homestead. I suppose it was her way to keep idle little hands busy and curb our enthusiasm that Santa was coming soon. There was four of us… me, my two sisters, and my baby brother who was really too young to be of any help except eating popcorn Mom made from scratch. Throughout the year, Mom collected clear dry-cleaning plastic bags and clear produce plastic bags from the grocer to be turned in feathery, shimmering holiday wreaths trimmed with pinecones and dried flowers we picked on our woodland excursions and freshly-pressed old ribbons from gifts received throughout the year. My job, being the eldest, was to cut away any printed labels from the plastic bags, then cut open the bags into a flat plastic sheets. Each flat sheet was then divided into approximately 12-inch strips. Mom, second in the assembly line, would roll the plastic sheets into a tight ‘cigar’ roll and slice 1-inch ribbons from it to create piles of feathery streamers. My sisters, whenever they weren’t grabbing handfuls of popcorn and next in the assembly chain, would tie the plastic streamers one-by-one around recycled wire clothes hangers that Mom had distorted into circular shapes. Once all the cutting had been completed, we all joined in with the popcorn-eating and double-knotting of the shimmering streamers to the wreath, packing them tightly together next to each other until you could no longer distinguish the coat hanger. I recall we were a productive team of Santa’s little helpers and made wreaths for every window and door frame in our home.

Mom would trim up the scraggly bits from the wreaths to even-out the form into a fluffy feathery halo and tie on big ribbon bows and clusters of pinecones.

So today I thought I’d show you how to making your own lined holiday gift bags which are quick and easy to make assembly-line-style with your children. I think children can be very creative and it is easy to harness their enthusiasm for the holidays. Most of all, it creates wonderful memories and holiday traditions.

You’ll need a few supplies but as sewers and crafters you may have most of what you need covered already and it is an excellent way to tidy up your sewing room and re-purpose those odds and ends you’ve been saving or use up from your fabric stash or quilter’s fat quarters. The list is short: cotton prints for exteriors, cotton stripes and solids for interiors; colourful cloth ribbons, flat braids, cording, and twines for tying up; and handmade hang-tags from Christmas Past and ornamental finishing touches such as jolly jiggle bells, yarn snowballs (pompoms) or dried natural pinecones. Actually, anything that you have on hand!


1. From Robert Kaufman, ¨Holly Jolly¨, designer: Mary Lake-Thompson; 2. ¨Winter Church Scenic¨ by Spring Creative Products, designer: Susan Winget; 3. From Pillow & Maxfield, ¨Scarlett Poinsetta¨, designer: Michael Miller; 4. From Wilmington Prints, ¨Woodland Holiday¨, designer Lisa Audit; 5. Wilmington’s ¨Frosted Holiday Presents¨, designer: Katie Doucette; 6. From Henry Glass & Co., ¨Holiday Tradition¨, designer: Jan Shade Beach; 7. From Henry Glass & Co., ¨Holiday Homecoming Snowflake¨, designer: Jan Shade Beach; 8. From Robert Kaufman, ¨Winter Grandeur¨, designer: RK Studio; 9. ¨Holiday Homecoming Novelty Stripe¨, from Henry Glass & Co., designer: Jan Shade Beach. 


Every year fabric designers come out with their holiday collection prints which are colourful and festive to take much of the guesswork out of creating a theme. This year is no exception. Above are a few examples of holiday themed prints which by no means is complete. You can get about four gift bags from 1 meter of 115 cm wide cotton fabric.  For the linings I prefer using stripes and solids but take a look at this year’s offerings from various fabric designers’ collections below, the patterns are wonderful.


1. From Magnolia Home Fashions, ¨Red Ticking¨; 2. From Pillow & Maxfield, ¨Curly Swirl Santa Red¨, designer: Michael Miller; 3. From Henry Glass & Co. ¨Holiday Homecoming Swirl Red¨, designer: Jan Shade Beach; 4. ‘Romantic Afternoon Flannel Dots¨by Wilmington Prints, designer: Lisa Audit; 5. ¨Frosted Holiday Ticking^from Wilmington Prints, designer: Katie Doucette; 6. ¨Gingerbread Christmas Diagonal Stripe¨by Maywood Studios, designer: Meg Hawkey; 7. from Riley Blake Designs, ¨Jingle Jangle Snowflake¨, designer: Christopher Thompson; 8. From Wilmington Prints, ¨Romantic Afternoon Flannel Plaid¨, designer: Lisa Audit; and 9. ¨Cosy Christmas Flannel Stripe¨by Riley Blake Designs, designer: Lori Holt.


This particular bag design is large enough for gift-wrapping a bottle of wine, a tall stack of home-baked cookies, an assortment of mixed unshelled nuts, candy boxes, or a small toy. Once you have learned the sequence of assembly, you can use this production method to make larger gift-bags using larger quantities of fabric. 



Before we get started, a word about safety and ability. While I consider sewing to be a safe activity to do, it is not without risk. We are using sharp objects like scissors and dress pins, power tools like a sewing machine, and hot equipment like steam irons. It is important to respect and use these tools correctly. Assign each job to someone who understands how the equipment operates and has the ability to perform each one. The sewing skill required is basic. This project requires no pattern and only uses a straight stitch in its construction. Even a school child can sew a straight stitch on a sewing machine. Pressing with a steam iron, on the other hand, should be left to a teenager or an adult. Let tiny tots be in charge of ribbons and trimmings. They are very good at making hangtags from old greeting cards using blunt scissors and gum paste.

Ok, let’s get started…



Step 1: For each meter of fabric, fold the printed material across its width and align selvedge with selvedge and pin selvedges together. Press the fold of the material flat using a steam iron. Open the fabric face up and lay flat. Cut along the fold line to form 2 portions.

With each portion (100 cm cm x 55 cm), fold the material in half along its length and align the raw top and bottom edges . Pin together and iron the fold of the material flat. Re-open the fabric face up and lay flat. Cut along the fold line to form another 2 portions. In total, there are 4 fabric portions. If the print is a directional pattern, be certain to position the fabric so that the print is pointing in the correct direction (usually it is upward).

Repeat the above steps for the interior fabric. Cut 4 portions.

Step 2: Join 1 exterior fabric with 1 interior fabric. (In this case, 1 print fabric with 1 solid or striped fabric).

Place the exterior fabric face up with the pattern of the print in the correct direction and lay flat.

Then lay the interior fabric face down on top of the exterior fabric and pin together along top edge, matching B to E and C to H.

Step  3: Machine-stitch a straight seam across the top of the fabric bundle using a 10mm seam allowance from B-E to C-H.

Step 4: Press seam allowance open and flat with steam iron. Then press all the seam allowance to one side from the exterior portion to the interior portion (E-H towards B-C).

Step 5: Place the fabric rectangle face up with the exterior portion at the bottom and lay flat.

Measure down from the seam line on the left side 5 cm (from B-E to point X) and apply an evenly-folded piece of ribbon or twine ( 1 meter long) at point X. Baste or pin in place.

Fold the fabric rectangle in half across its width matching points A to D, B-E to C-H, and F to G.

Keep ribbon ends loose within the fold.

Step 6: Machine-stitch a straight seam from top to bottom (A-D to F-G) using a 10mm seam allowance to form a tube. Be certain to catch the sandwiched ribbon in the seam stitching. Press seam allowance open and flat.

Step 7: Machine-stitch a straight seam across the bottom of the fabric tube using a 10mm seam allowance from F-G to fold of the fabric. Do not sew over the ribbon ties. Press seam allowance open and flat.

mit 3_FotorStep 8: Align the vertical seam over the horizontal seam at point F-G to create a diagonal point.

Measure from point end inward along seam line 5 cm and sew perpendicular to the seam lines.

Repeat this step, this time aligning horizontal seam F-G over the foldline and sewing a perpendicular seam 5 cm from the corner point.

Step 9: At the top of the tube, turn under the raw edge 10 mm and press flat. Repeat step 8 at A-D and also at the fold line, leaving the top of the tube open for turning.

BAG SETUP_FotorStep 10: Pull the bag right-side-out through the opening in the lining and match the turned edges of the opening together. Edge-stitch along opening to close up. Then drop the lining into the cavity of the gift bag and stop when the lining reaches the seam allowance of the joining seam (B-C to E-H). Here you want to ¨wrap¨ the lining over the seam allowance to form a piped effect across the top of the gift bag. The width of this effect is equal to the seam allowance, 10 mm wide. Stitch-in-the-ditch along the groove of the seam line to catch the lining in place.



Your teamwork is complete. Add a hangtag and any ornaments to the ribbon ties.


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Top-stitching is exactly as it sounds – a line of stitches, often decorative yet functional, that are visible on the face surface of your bag design. Technically you can use any stitch and thread to topstitch a bag exterior, but if you want professional results and a polished finish, it’s best to learn to topstitch like the pros. The addition of top-stitching to any bag will make it decorative while adding body to the bag structure and firm up the shape to the bag without adding any interfacing. Do keep in mind to keep the stitch-type and its length, consistent and uniform for a harmonious professional finished look.  A cluster of unrelated stitches will ruin the appearance of your bag design and denotes poor execution.


You can embellish with topstitching and it can be machine-stitched with a polished topstitching thread or hand-sewn with waxed linen thread.  If I do decide on hand-stitching, I often pre-punch holes whenever I use leathers or plastics by ¨walking¨ an unthreaded needle in my sewing machine by hand, using the flywheel instead of the foot-pedal to keep control, along the edge that will receive the top-stitching. Then, I just follow the guided path with my hand-needle. This gives me a smooth, even appearance and makes it easy to sew. You can also use the same method to create a laced-edge effect on your design. Your stitch line should be slightly longer in length than a construction stitch when you are topstitching. After all, if you’re going to put in all that extra labour and time, you want everyone to notice it.


Design-wise, you can use top-stitching to create in part the style of the bag, such as in quilting or trapunto. This type of embellishment uses a padded backing or interlining that can add extra body to the structure of the bag. Also, be aware that, the more  machine-stitching you apply to the fabric’s surface, the stiffer the fabric will become. In other words, you don’t even need interfacing to make your bag’s exterior more rigid while at the same time keeping the bag light in weight.

Think like a designer and be creative with the thread colour pathway and use a fun contrasting colour. This can bring a pop of style and pizzazz to your finished product.  Add piping or cording for extra impact.


Lastly, I like to do topstitching by way of the saddle-stitch on hard-to-sew cut edge styles and for simple leather bag handles. This simple hand-stitch denotes high-quality workmanship on any bag design and is a very professional-looking embellishment and finish.

Here are some professional tips when topstitching:

  • Top stitching thread is heavier gauge (weight) than conventional sewing machine thread; you use this thread in the top load of your machine and use regular sewing thread in the bobbin.
  • 90/14 is a special needle sized for top stitching; it has a larger eye to accommodate the thicker thread gauge.
  • Sometimes your project might work better with a different thread & needle for topstitching; make certain you choose your needle wisely.
  • Take your time and test on a piece of scrap fabric first. Make sure you use the same number of layers in your test swatch as you’ll have in the finished project, and test out a few different threads, needles, and stitch types/lengths before you decide on the real deal. Taking the time to do this step is the difference between homemade and handmade.
  • Top-stitch spacing from the edge is extremely important when applying. Consider using a seam guide tool for consistency. Speaking of consistency, to be harmonious in your overall design, your top-stitching should not be a hodgepodge of different stitches nor stitch lengths. Choose one style of top-stitching and use it throughout your design.
  • Depending on the thickness of fabric layers, the tension may need adjusting. This is especially important with thicker materials such as canvas/leather. Again, it’s always important to do a test piece first. 
  • If you are using topstitching thread in the bobbin as well, you might want to get a second bobbincase dedicated solely to the heavier gauge thread. Your sewing machine dealer can help you with that and set the bobbin tension for you.
  • If you’re using a thicker fabric or a lot of layers, position some scrap fabric under the back of your presser foot before you begin to sew. This allows the presser foot to remain straight, horizontally, so that it doesn’t have to “climb uphill” to begin sewing the bag.
  • Don’t backstitch – at least, not in the traditional way. Instead of stitching back and forth a few times to begin and end your topstitching, first shorten your stitch length to something very short; backstitch just once back and forth, then lengthen your stitches and sew as normal. This creates a more subtle way to anchor your stitches.
  • When you’re finished sewing, pull the top threads to the bottom or back of the work and tie them in a knot with the lower threads, then trim away loose ends.
  • Stabilize fabrics as needed. Use tear-away stabilizer under the material and then tear it off when you’re finished sewing. Another option is to add a layer of interfacing between the fabric layers.
  • Trim seam allowances before topstitching. This reduces the bulk of the fabric under the stitches, making it easier to get a smooth, even finish.
  • Lastly, throw away the rule book and experiment with your decorative stitches!


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


bag strap 4_Fotor

While bag straps details are a small style component in bag designing, choosing the right strap for your bag design is important when you are designing a handbag collection. In the manufacturing world, most bag handles and other bag fittings are bought through wholesale suppliers but when it comes to the actual bag strapping, much of it is made in-house. When deciding on a strap style for your creation, it’s important to consider the length and width because each has their own characteristics which change the look, comfort, and the way the bag is carried.


The strap length is measured from one end to the other, including the attachable hooks/hardware. Please note that “strap length” is different from “drop length” which measures the distance from the top of the strap to the top of the bag, when being worn. Measure all straps by their length (from end-to-end) because the drop length depends on the type of bag, what type of clothing you’re wearing (a heavy coat for example), your height, the position the bag is worn and so forth. By using the end-to-end length method, you can select the length that works best for your personal needs.

drop length_Fotor

The standard strap lengths listed below should work for most people, however I’ve found that it is really a matter of personal preference. Only the user knows the strap length that makes carrying a bag comfortable and a pleasure. Here’s how you can find the right length.

To determine the length of strap needed, dressforms get used in my studio often, along with a tape-measure to help determine my desired strap length or drape it on my assistant (I’m certain you can find a volunteer live and willing) in the design studio. As well, I can recommend using a piece of cord or flat ribbon, attached to your mock-up sample, with it adjusted until the length is as desired. Measure the ribbon from end-to-end to determine your strap length. Another method that often works well is to find another sample bag you have produced that has the strap length you’re looking to replicate. You have already done the design work so odds are the strap length will be a good choice. If possible, attach it to the mock-up to see if it will work for the length you’d like to achieve on your new prototype.

I have categorized 7 typical uses and lengths of handbag straps:

  1. Wristlet (6 to 10-inch range)
  2.  Short Handle (12 to 20-inch range)
  3. Shoulder (30-inch range)
  4. Long Shoulder (40-inch range)
  5. Crossbody (50-inch range)
  6. Extra Long (60-inch range)
  7. Adjustable (22 to 60-inch range)

Wristlet Straps:

Wristlet straps fit around the wrist then attach to the bag, making them a great choice for smaller bags that need to be kept close, like a clutch or billfold. Wristlet straps have an approximately 6-inch opening for your hand to slip through. They are designed to fit most handspans, while still being “snug” enough when placed on the wrist that it won’t easily slide or fall off.

A wristlet strap can also be used as a lanyard or even as a large zipper pull for larger totes.

Short Handle Straps (12 to 20-inch range):

Short handle straps are used to carry handbags either as a top-handle carried with your hand or over your arm, or as a tight-fitting hobo-style strap. If you’re a petite person, a 20-inch strap may work well to hold the bag tightly under your arm.

Keep in mind, when attaching a short handle strap to a hobo-style handbag, the weight of the contents will change the shape of the bag and increase the drop length quite a bit (sometimes double) so be sure to test this on your mock-up bag.

Shoulder Straps (30-inch range):

Shoulder straps are generally in the 30-inch range and are typically used to carry bags closely under your arm and close to the body. This is a popular bag strap length because the strap can also function as a top-handle for other bag styles, such as a tote. Many people like this length because it allows you to hold the handbag by the handle while you carry it on the shoulder, yet you are allowed to let go and be hands-free while commuting.

The beauty of detachable/attachable straps is the freedom to carry the bag any way you want. Simply attach the strap of your choice and go!

Long Shoulder Straps (40-inch range):

Longer shoulder straps are generally in the 40-inch range and allow the bag to hang down near the hip area when worn over the shoulder (depending on how tall you are, of course). For the petite person, this length can often be used to wear the bag across the chest, or often referred to as the “cross body” position.

When using as a cross body strap, this will have the top of the bag style sitting near the natural waist, depending on your height, weight and clothing. 

Crossbody Straps (50-inch range):

Crossbody (sometimes called “chest straps”) straps are generally in the 50-inch range. This type of strap allows the bag style to be worn securely over the head so that the strap rests on the shoulder and the bag crosses the chest then sits around the hip area on the opposite side of the body.

This style is very popular because it allows the bag style to be worn securely in busy areas while commuting or travelling, etc., frees up your hands to carry other things, and generally provides the most comfort. Even if the bag style wasn’t designed for cross body wear, it is usually possible to convert it using a longer attachable crossbody strap.

Extra Long Straps (60-inch range):

Extra long bag straps have many uses and are a great choice if the user is a tall or plus-size person, wear heavy clothing like a winter jacket, or prefer a low-hanging bag. This longer length is designed to provide a similar drop-length as the 50-inch crossbody straps, but for those that fall into the scenarios just mentioned.

It is possible to go longer than 60-inches, but the strap materials quickly become limited. Due to genuine leather hide size limitations, it is often not possible to go longer than 65 to 70-inches or some kind of hardware connection is needed. Other materials, like imitation  leather and nylon webbing, can be made into very long bag straps because they are yard goods available on large rolls.

Adjustable Straps (28 to 65-inch range):

Adjustable bag straps offer the ultimate in flexibility. Adjustable straps come in two forms: with the popular tri-glide “slider” hardware for precise tuning of strap length, or with “punched holes and a buckle” that have fixed adjustable lengths.

Adjustable bag straps range in lengths from 28 to 65-inches. Many customers elect for the 55-inch adjustable strap because its range can be changed quickly from 34-inches to 55-inches, making it seamless to convert the bag style from a shoulder to crossbody style.

A bag strap with a slider mechanism or buckle will alter not only the strap length but the drop length of a bag too. With an adjustable bag strap, the user has the freedom to carry or wear the bag exactly the way they want, on the shoulder hanging low to the hip, across the chest, or tightly under the arm.  This design detail makes any kind of bag styling much more versatile, therefore saleable, when presenting a new collection.

bag straps 2


The strap width is the portion of the strap that rests on the shoulder or in the hand (if used as a “top handle”). Generally speaking, the larger the bag strap width, the heavier a bag that can be supported. This is because the contact area of the bag strap increases as the strap width increases, which allows for improved weight distribution and comfort. This is particularly useful for anyone with sensitive shoulders (due to arthritis, for example). You could add a shoulder shield to the strap to prevent narrow straps from cutting into the shoulder and pad them a little bit to add additional comfort when carrying heavier loads.

Also interesting to note, a slender strap usually hugs the shoulder better, helping to prevent the bag from slipping or falling off. As a rule of thumb, smaller bags generally use smaller width straps, and larger bags generally use larger width straps. It makes common sense!

So the challenge becomes finding the right balance between usefulness (do I need to carry a large and heavy bag, or small and light weight bag?), comfort (will I be carrying the bag for extended periods of time and does it fit my body?) and appearance (does the strap look balanced with my bag?).

I have categorized handbag straps into 7 widths and uses:

  1. Extra Slender & Drawcord Straps (3/8-inch)
  2. Slender Width Straps (1/2-inch)
  3. Standard Width Straps (3/4-inch)
  4. Classic Width Straps (1-inch)
  5. Wide Width Straps (1½-inch)
  6. Extra Wide Width Straps (2-inch)
  7. Chain Straps (varying in width from ¼-inch to ⅝-inch)

Extra Slender & Drawcord Straps (3/8-inch):

An extra slender or drawcord bag strap is great for a minimal look on small bags. Drawcord straps do not come with attachable hooks (extra slender ones do, however) because they are designed to be knotted at the ends and looped into or through the bag’s hardware, or used on a bag style with a traditional drawstring closure.

Slender Width Straps (1/2-inch):

Slender bag straps are great for smaller bags, clutches, envelope bags, slender billfolds or if the bag styling is seeking a delicate or minimal visual look to your handbag collection. Slender straps tend to stay on the shoulder with less slippage. For bags designed to carry a lot of weight, choose the more apt “classic” or “wide” bag straps.

Standard Width Straps (3/4-inch):

Standard width straps provide good carrying capacity for small to medium sized bags, and offer a good balance between the minimal look of a slender strap and the wider/larger look of a classic strap. These straps are comfortable to wear and are double-stitched to provide good carrying strength.

Classic Width Straps (1-inch):

Classic width straps provide great comfort and carrying capacity for medium to large size handbags and purses of all types. This is the most popular selling width and can carry heavier bags with ease.

Wide Width Straps (1½-inch):

Wide width straps offer excellent strength and comfort for large tote bags, brief cases, diaper, camera or weekender bags. These straps are great for carrying a lot of weight because they distribute the weight of the bag, easing stress on the shoulder.

Extra Wide Width Straps (2-inch):

Extra-wide width straps offer excellent strength and comfort for large shoulder bags, sports bags, duffles and other travel bags. These straps are great for carrying a lot of weight because they distribute the weight of the bag, easing stress on the shoulder or across the body. Often extra wide widths are top-stitched with multiple rows of machine-stitching which adds body and strengthen the strap. 

Chain Straps (varying in width from ¼-inch to ⅝-inch):

Chain straps range in width from ¼-inch to ⅝-inch. Most chain straps are metal making them impossible to cut by thieves and can carry a good amount of weight depending on the chain style and thickness. You can find plastic chains as well though they are used for making more of a fashion statement rather than for practicality. Remember though, carrying a heavy bag on your shoulder with a chain strap can quickly become uncomfortable. I don’t recommend carrying heavy bags on the shoulder with a chain strap due to the increased pressure. A wide fabric bag strap or a thick chain with leather shoulder/handle, is better suited for this scenario. That said, chain straps are great for communicating elegance, sophistication and class, which generally translates to fashion/style rather than function.

Luxury chain straps have the look and feel of fine jewellery and come with connecting hardware that are ready to attach to your bag. Chain straps are available to match with almost any bag design detail, whether it be: hardware, material, or colour, making them an excellent and elegant styling choice.


It goes without saying that if you are designing a bag fabricated in a certain material that the bag straps are made from the same material. However, thinking like a designer, there are other options you may want to consider. We want the bag strap to be durable yet comfortable to wear. We want the bag strap to appear balanced with the rest of our bag design to unify our design concept. We want the bag strap to be useful and support the weight we are carrying. Therefore you may want to consider other choices for making bag strapping apart from the fashion fabric.

Furthermore, by designing an attachable bag strap you can:

  • Add or replace a strap on the bag so you don’t have to replace the whole bag
  • Convert a purse or other bag into a cross body with an adjustable or long cross body strap
  • Restore your favourite handbag that is no longer usable with a new genuine leather strap or chain handle

Genuine leathers and imitation leathers are classic materials used to make bag straps as they are very durable and look great as a contrast detail. They are available in many traditional and fashion colours, and surface finishes. The only drawback is conventional sewing machines are not powerful enough to sew through thick layers of leather so hand-stitching may be required.

bag straps 3

Nylon webbing is incredibly strong, sturdy and durable. Cotton canvas webbing is sturdy, soft to the touch and complements many bag types. Webbing straps are also a low-cost alternative to a genuine leather strap. Adjustable O-rings and D-rings can be used as connectors and set in place with rivets. Webbing is available by the roll in a variety of solid and patterned colours.

Luxury chain straps have the look and feel of fine jewellery, are metal with a gold-tone, nickel, gunmetal or antique brass finish, and connecting hooks are available in matching metal colour/finishes that can be attached to the chain lengths. This material works well for making replacement bag straps for existing daytime bags and adds a lightness and sparkle for evening bags.


Now that the design dimensions of the bag strapping has been decided, connecting hardware needs to be chosen. There is plenty of choice in the marketplace but attachable hooks/attachable O-ring metal hardware seems to be the favourites among designers. These attachable connectors are ideal to making replacement bag straps for existing bag designs, as well. They are available is many different metal colours and finishes, from classic silver and gold with polished finishes to antique brass and gun-metal with brushed finishes.


Tri-glide sliders are popular for precise tuning of strap length and offer the ultimate in flexibility when designing adjustable bag straps.

Metal buckles can be used in your bag strap design that allow for fixed adjustable lengths to the bag strap by way of adding punched eyelet holes to the strapping.

Measure the inner diameter of the hardware to ensure the strap fits into the hardware without buckling or allowing any slack.

Also think design harmony within the styling of your bag. Try to match or compliment other bag fittings such as bag feet and bag zippers to the metal colour and finish of the connecting hardware you are using on your bag straps to create a unifying look. These little touches makes the difference between a homemade and a handmade bag.

Design Your Bag the Way YOU Want and Make the Style Your Own

With the right choice of bag strap, you have the freedom to design your bag exactly the way you envisioned it. There is no need to worry about how a bag will look or hang with the strap it came with as length and width have been well-thought out. Now, that choice is yours in the styling, with a strap that fits the user’s needs, mood or style!


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



Craftsy just sent me some exciting and exclusive news: DVDs are (finally!) coming to!

They have carefully selected a set of classes for the first round of DVDs … 60 titles are available on since May, and hope to add another 60 titles by the end of June. How wonderful!

Selling Craftsy class content in this format I think will provide a unique hands-on way to introduce the crafting community to Craftsy and its company of talented instructors through crafting publications & catalogs, libraries, other online retailers as well as brick & mortar retailers.

I’m really excited about this opportunity, and today they are all on sale!

Bring your favourite Craftsy classes to the big screen. Craftsy is putting all of their DVDs on sale at $19.99USD each – today only.

All DVD Craftsy Classes at $19.99 USD each. Sale ends June 13, 2017 at 11:59PM MT.


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A functional yet basic convertible bag design. A book bag, a market carry-all, the perfect everyday tote. Carry by hand when in use; then fold it into its zippered pouch and slip it in your coat pocket so that it is at the ready.

Dimensions: 18″ high / 16″ wide / 4″ deep, with an exterior zippered pouch pocket and nylon handles. [45.75 cm x 40.5 cm x 10 cm]

Construction Method: Turned finish – this method may be recognized by noting the lack of machine-stitching that is visible at points of assembly on the exterior side of the bag.  This is possible by placing the material, or parts, face to face, machining and turning right-side out. It is the most commonly used assembly process.

Material Used: 100% nylon ripstop, 60″ wide

You will need:

  • 1.25 yds. [1.15 m] water-proof nylon ripstop, 60″ wide [152 cm]**
  • 2/3 yds. [61 cm] nylon webbing, 1″ wide [25mm] *
  • 1 reversible zipper, 10″ long [25.5  cm]
  • 1.25 yds. [1.15 m] double-fold bias tape, 1/4″ wide [6 mm] (optional)
  • 1 spool polyester thread

** NOTE: If your fabric choice has a directional printed design like mine, you will need to cut the body section in half. With wide goods, you’ll only need half the required yardage as the front and back sections can be cut side by side across the fabric’s width. No allowance made for matching the print.

* NOTE:  Bag handles can be made as shoulder straps by increasing the yardage of webbing, as shown below in diagram.



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 this example, 4″). So the overall bag dimensions are 18” high (length) by 16” wide (width) by 4” deep (depth). This will give a roomy bag cavity volume of 1,152 cubic inches which should carry a reasonable amount of items and weight.

The exterior pouch is a zippered pocket that can be used to carry keys, wallet, etc. When not in use, the totebag can be folded into the pouch for storage.

Seam allowance (1/2″) or [12 mm] is included in this pattern-draft.



  • cut 1X body (see note above)
  • cut 2X pocket
  • cut 1X pocket side
  • cut 2 bag handles from webbing, 12″ long [30 cm] (see note above)


Make the pocket pouch. With right sides together (RST), fold the POCKET SIDE piece in half lengthwise, and wrap around the end of the reversible zipper. Stitch across the short end. Repeat this step with opposite end of zipper.


Turn fabric right-side-out and press seams flat. Top-stitch across ends of zipper.

Align the “open” side of the POCKET SIDE to the edge of one of the POCKET pieces. The seaming of the zipper should be in the middle of the shorter sides of the rectangle. Pin/baste the POCKET SIDE to the POCKET piece. There is no seam allowance value on the zipper tape itself so stitch along the edge of the zipper tape when joining the two sections. Sew around the perimeter of the POCKET SIDE and clip seam allowance in the corners if the fabric does not lie flat. Grade the excess material in the seam allowance.


Place remaining POCKET piece on top of the pouch assembly, with RST and match in the corners. Flip the whole assembly over so that the previous line of stitching is visible. Pin/baste perimeter of rectangles together. Beginning slightly inside the lower corner, stitch following previous stitches, around the lower corner, up the side, across the top, down the side, and around the last corner, leaving an opening to turn out the fabric. Trim diagonally at each corner to reduce any bulk. Turn pocket out through the opening and slip-stitch opening close. Set aside.

Apply pouch to body. Position pocket with zipper facing toward top edge of bag. Place it in the center of the front bag section, 7.5″ [19 cm] from the top edge and 8″[20 cm] from either side seam. Pin/baste in place. Sew along the edge of the folded fabric and zipper tape to install.

Finish bag opening. If using, open bias tape flat and sew onto top edges of bag. Wrap raw edges with the bias tape and bind. Otherwise, sew a narrow 1/4-inch double-rolled hem to complete the bag opening.

Add bag handles. Position each webbing strip, 6″ [15 cm] from each corner of the bag, on the inside of the bag (wrong side of fabric) to form a loop for the bag handle on each section and X-stitch in place to secure.

Complete totebag. Fold the fabric with WST, and match at corners. Sew French seams on both sides of the bag, by stitching a 1/4-inch seam allowance, then trimming seam allowance close to stitching. Turn bag inside-out and sew another 1/4-inch seam allowance along sideseams; press seams flat.

Note: If using a directional printed fabric as in this tutorial, cut the body section in two and add a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Sew a French seam along the bottom edge of the bag before closing the sides. miter_fotor

Miter the gusset end by marking with a pin where the gusset end fold will come on front and back panels, (in this case, it is 2″ in and 2″ up from edges). Fold in the side turn at the pins, where the gusset fold will come; and, fold in the corner triangle to the pins. Press along the folds. Stitch across side seam from pin to pin to create each gusset for the totebag.

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 pouch,  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 needed.



Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Ideas, Design Techniques


purse-3If you plan to use a fabulous fabric with a printed design or textured motif, you will need to match the print when doing the seam construction in making up your bag.  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. There are times when matching the repeat in a fabric pattern isn’t crucial such as 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 sizeable 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. This tutorial takes a look at using a patterned fabric to create a soft-sided purse and how to go about using the fabric and its patterned surface to its best advantage to create unity and harmony in your design.

Featured fabric:


The fashion fabric used in this tutorial is a beautiful textured chenille upholstery fabric made up in a jacquard weave on a stylized twill background. In the dominant motif of the pattern, the chenille yarn is used to create a stylized lily set within a hexagon leaf border. The vertical pattern repeat is 9-inches [23 cm]. The over-all pattern arrangement is a half-drop repeat.

The Creative Dilemma:

pattern-repeat_fotorAs handbag designers, we love working with textile prints and textures. Upholstery fabrics are thick wide goods textiles that lend themselves well to fashion bag designing. In this particular selection, the fabric is wide (54” / 137 cm) and the pattern repeat is 9” / 23 cm in length. The bag dimensions are 13” H x 18” W x 4” D (33 cm x 46 cm x 10 cm). The stylized “lily” is about 6” x 6” (15 cm x 15 cm). Nine inches will fit within a area of 13 inches top to bottom and 18 inches side to side. Then, what is the dilemma?

If the bag styling required a front and back section cut in one-piece, there would be no need to match the surface pattern as the vertical pattern repeat could not be disrupted and being that the cloth is wide, each section could be cut side by side across the width of the fabric, therefore only requiring approximately half-yard of goods for front, back, and base of the purse.

However, there is more to the bag design. There is an exterior pocket on the front section. A patch pocket sized to make best use of the 6 x 6 flower would accommodate the motif yet would not appear very polished style-wise. So the exterior pocket is styled as a pouch pocket on a centre panel positioned between two mirrored side panels (see the Rule of Three). This pocket style is sleeker in appearance and sits flatter on the front plane. However, it cuts through the surface pattern and the motif is lost.

The Creative Solution:

After you have determined the vertical repeat, add that amount to your overall yardage required for your pattern-draft, even if you are able to get more than one section width from the fabric’s width as most upholstery textiles often are wider than most fashion fabrics. The larger the shape of the bag or the more intricate the pattern design is, the more waste there will be.

Begin by designing the 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 all the while aligning the missing part of the motif, plus an added extension for the pocket opening.

Then, cut the side panels a bit larger than the center panel section. This will allow you to travel upward or downward along the seamline to align the overall pattern. It is best to sew the panel widths together first and then trim the excess from the panels to your desired length and width in accordance with the pattern-draft. Remember to cut mirrored images. Most decorative fabrics are made so that the print matches at or just inside the selvage.  If you line up the print on each width of fabric at the selvages and stitch right along or just inside the selvage, the print should match (just like you may put up wallpaper). 

Once the front section is complete, use it as a guide to cut out the back section all-in-one. Clever planning will allow you to use the waste part of the the un-used fabric for facings, handles, and other similar details in your design.

Dimensions: approximately 13 high / 18 wide / 4″ deep with a 12” wide base; 24″ [51 cm] fixed strap handle and 16” zippered opening,

Construction Method: Turned finish – this method may be recognized by noting the lack of machine-stitching that is visible at points of assembly on the exterior side of the bag.  This is possible by placing the material, or parts, face to face, machining and turning right-side out. It is the most commonly used assembly process.

Material Used: chenille brocade upholstery fabric; percale lining fabric

You will need:

  • 1 yd. [0.90 m] patterned upholstery fabric, 54” wide [ 137 cm]
  • 1 yd. [0.90 m] high-thread count lining fabric, 54” wide [137 cm]
  • 1/2 yd. [46 cm] coordinating fabric (for contrast trim & handles)
  • 1/4 yd. [23 cm] ripstop nylon fabric, 54” wide [137 cm] (for exterior pocket lining)
  • 1 yd. [0.90 m] knit-fuse interfacing, 60” wide [152 cm]
  • 1/4 yd. [23 cm] heavy-duty Pellon interfacing, 45” wide [115 cm]
  • 3/4 yd. [ 69 cm] ban-roll buckram, 1” wide [25mm]
  • 1.5 yds. [140 cm] single-fold bias tape, 1/2″ wide [12 mm]
  • 1 closed-end pocket zipper, 16” long [41 cm] x 1” wide [25 mm]
  • 1 closed-end pocket zipper, 10” long [25cm] x 3/4” wide [20mm]
  • 1 spool all-purpose thread



Scale = X = 2 inches [ 5 cm]; the prototype is 4″ deep [10 cm]

The draft and formation of this prototype is based upon a simple flat grid, which fits into a square or rectangle, of which the size depends on the  desired depth of the style (2″ or greater).

** Add seam allowances to all pattern pieces.

The following is the proportionate pattern-draft. Enter any value for X you desire.


Front section of the purse including gussets


Base & Back section of the purse including gussets


Lining pattern & patch pocket


Fabric yardage will be dependant upon width of goods and number of vertical pattern repeats needed, the type of block pattern used, and the type of pattern match required. Remember to add seam allowances before cutting fabric.

  • Cut one piece of fashion fabric for each exterior pattern piece. Read pouch pocket instructions below before attempting fabric cutting.
  • Fuse interfacing to back of lining fabric following manufacturer’s directions. Cut two pieces of fashion lining fabric for the interior lining and one piece for the interior patch pocket.
  • Cut one rectangle of lining fabric: 12″ x 3″ [30 cm x 8 cm] for interior pocket facing.
  • Cut one square of lining fabric: 12″ x  12″ [30 cm x 30 cm] for pocket bag.
  • Cut two pieces of ripstop nylon fabric using the POCKET pattern piece.
  • Fuse interfacing to back of contrast trim fabric following manufacturer’s directions. Cut four pieces of contrast trim fabric: 19″ x 2″ [49 cm x 5 cm].
  • Cut two pieces of contrast trim fabric: 26″ x 2″ [66 cm x 5 cm] for purse handle.



Making pouch pocket. When cutting the printed or patterned fashion fabric, you want to match the pattern yet you do not know where the pattern repeat lies on the exterior pocket. The only thing you do know is that you want the motif to be centered on the pocket. Therefore you would cut the pocket first, then the remaining top portion of the center panel to size. Note: You want to make up the front center panel first before cutting any other parts of the purse’s exterior.

Using the POCKET and TOP CENTER PANEL pattern pieces, overlap them 1″ [25 mm] at the top edge of the pocket opening and securing with paper clips. This is the entire front center panel. Lay the pattern on your fabric and align the pattern to the center of the motif. Do this in the middle of the fabric’s width; reserve the selvedge edges for the front side panels.  Using tailor’s chalk, mark the four corners of the POCKET pattern piece. Now remove the paper clips and align the POCKET pattern only to the chalk marks and add seam allowance all around. Set aside.


Next, cut two pieces of ripstop nylon using the POCKET pattern in the same manner as described above. With right sides together (RST), place 1 nylon piece with the pocket piece and sew across the top of the pocket. Press the seam open and grade the ripstop nylon’s seam allowance. On the right side of the ripstop nylon, under-stitch the nylon to the fashion fabric’s seam allowance. Fold the fabric along the pocket opening and press flat. (You may add top-stitching to the folded edge if you wish).

Now, position the sewn pocket piece onto the fashion fabric and find the missing part of the motif. Align the sewn edge of the pocket to match that of the motif. Chalk the upper corners of the pocket and remove the pocket piece. Using the TOP CENTER PANEL pattern, set the bottom corners of the pattern piece on the chalk marks and trace out the pattern and extend 1-inch below the pocket opening (bottom edge of pattern) to create an overlap. Add seam allowances all around. Before cutting out, recheck pattern match with POCKET section.  When ready, cut out FRONT TOP PANEL. With RST, place remaining nylon piece with the TOP CENTER PANEL piece and sew across the bottom of the panel. Press the seam open and grade the ripstop nylon’s seam allowance. On the right side of the ripstop nylon, under-stitch the nylon to the fashion fabric’s seam allowance.front-center-panel_fotor_fotor

Make the front center panel. To complete the center panel, layer the POCKET section on top of the TOP CENTER PANEL section and match up the print. Pin together and measure distance from top of panel to the pocket opening. Each side should be equally distanced. Baste within the seam allowance, from the pocket opening to the bottom of the panel to catch the layers of ripstop underneath. This will create the pouch cavity. Set aside.

                                           front center panel                                                                      

Adding the side panels. Most patterned fabrics are made so that the pattern matches at or just inside the selvage.  If you line up the print pattern on each width of fabric at the selvages and stitch right along or just inside the selvage, the print should match.

Using the left selvedge of the fashion fabric, fold under the fabric just inside of the selvedge and press flat. Match the pattern drop to the right side of the center panel. Pin the pressed edge of the cloth to the seam allowance of the center panel section. Mark and cut the fashion fabric slightly larger than the RIGHT FRONT PANEL pattern piece (about 1″ all around will do). This will allow you to slide the fabric up or down along the seam to match the print. Repeat this step for the LEFT FRONT PANEL section, using the right selvedge edge of the cloth to mirror the image along the left side of the center panel section. It is best to slip-baste the seam lines carefully together with the face side up to match up the pattern motif and sew the panels together first with right sides together. Press the seam allowance toward the side panels and grade the bulk from the seams.


Then, chalk out the RIGHT SIDE and LEFT SIDE PANEL pieces onto the fabric, adding seam allowance. Trim the excess from the side panels to your desired length and width in accordance with the pattern-draft. Top-stitch along both vertical seams to create the pouch pocket. Set aside.

Make the back panel. Using the completed FRONT section, lay it on your fashion fabric and duplicate the look of the matched surface pattern. Using tailor’s chalk, mark the four corners of the FRONT section. Now remove the FRONT section and align the BACK PANEL pattern piece to the chalk marks and add seam allowance all around. Cut out the BACK section and set aside.

Make the base. By now you have a lot of fabric waste. Find a cloth piece large enough to mark out the BASE pattern piece and add seam allowance. Cut out the base section and set aside.


Prepare the lining fabric to receive the pocket detailing by ironing Fusi-Knit® fusible interfacing to the back of the fabric following manufacturer’s directions. This will stabilize and the reinforce the lining for inserting pocket compartments and protect it from wear.

There will be two interior pockets: 1) a zippered inset pocket on the back section of the lining for security; and 2) a self-lined patch pocket on the front section of the lining that can be divided into smaller compartments for organization.

With RST, fold the lining fabric with selvedges matching and lay the BACK pattern on the cloth on straight-grain. Mark out its shape and add seam allowance. Cut 2X lining. Set aside.

Make the patch pocket. Mark out the patch pocket pattern onto the lining fabric and add seam allowance. Cut out the pocket. With RST, fold the pocket in half and match the corners. Stitch each side of the pocket from the fold to the bottom edge, leaving the bottom open for turning out. Grade the seam allowance. Turn pocket right-side-out and press pocket flat. Top-stitch along the fold of this self-lined pocket.

With the pocket held upside-down, align the open edge of the pocket to the placement line indicated on the lining pattern and pin into place.  Stitch across the open edge to close the pocket. Trim the seam allowance close to the stitching line. Next, fold the pocket up towards the top of the lining and press flat. Top-stitch close to the edges of the patch pocket to attach it to the lining. This is a large pocket compartment that will get a lot of wear and tear when in use, so add narrow bartacks to the top corners with your zig-zag setting. This pocket may be divided into smaller compartments as desired by sewing vertical rows of stitching on the pocket face (I did a narrow column along one side to hold my pen).

Make inset pocket. Cut a rectangle of lining fabric: 12″ x 3″ [30 cm x 8 cm] for interior pocket facing. Mark the outline of the pocket opening on this piece based upon the zipper chain length (I used a 10″ closed zipper).

With RST, place the facing piece on the remaining lining piece and align the outline to the placement line indicated on the lining pattern and pin into place. Sew around the outline.

Cut down the center of the outline stopping 1/2-inch (13 mm) from each end, then cutting a diagonal angle into each corner of the rectangle, as shown. You will be cutting through both the facing and lining pieces. Pull the pocket facing piece though the opening and press flat.

With the lining facing up, place the zipper behind the opening, centering it then pin/baste in place. Top-stitch around all edges of the opening close to the turned edge of the opening.

Cut a square of lining fabric: 12″ x  12″ [30 cm x 30 cm] for pocket bag. Pin the back pocket bag section to the pocket facing section (1), folding the right side of the back to the wrong side of the front portion to create a pocket bag (2). Keeping the pocket bag free, stitch around all sides of the pocket bag (3).


Stay-stitch the inside corners of each of the lining sections. Fold and align the edges of each bottom corners on the lining sections and sew together.  Set aside.

Make the bag handle. Begin by cutting 2 fabric strips from contrast cloth that have been fused with interfacing. The cutting dimensions for the purse handle are 26″ x 2″ [66 cm x 5 cm]. Set aside.

Place a strip of basting taping down the center of a 1-inch wide [25 mm] strip of ban-roll buckram; remove the protective backing from the basting tape and center the buckram strip onto the back of one of the contrast fabric strips and flatten down. There should be a half-inch of fabric visible of either side of the ban-roll. 


bag handle layout

Place another strip of basting tape down the center of the ban-roll strip. Fold the edges of the contrast fabric over the edges of the ban-roll strip and press flat. Remove the protective backing from the basting tape and adhere folded edges to the ban-roll strip. Press flat.

With the wrong side of the handle facing up, place a strip of basting tape along both long edges of the handle, while avoiding the every edge where you will be stitching. Adhere single-fold bias tape as a decorative trim along the long edges of the handle. Have the bias tape slightly visible beyond the folded edge. Set aside.

Take the remaining contrast fabric strip and turn under long edges so that the raw edges meet at center. Press flat.

Place another strip of basting tape down the center of the back of the handle. Remove the protective backing from the basting tape and with WST, adhere the second contrast strip to the handle. Be certain to match up one strip directly upon the other. then, press flat. Top-stitch along either long edge of the handle piece to complete. Trim away the excess material at the short ends.

For a 6.5″ drop [17mm] on this bag style, cut the handle length to equal 24″ long [61 cm]. Note: The drop measurement may be lengthen or shorten depending upon how the purse is worn.

Completion of the Purse Exterior. Being that a contrasting fabric was used to make up the bag handle, the designer should incorporate the contrasting element at least two more times within the bag design to create a unified and harmonious appearance, as outlined in the Rule of Thirds.

Cut four pieces of interfaced contrast trim fabric: 19″ x 2″ [49 cm x 5 cm]. Two strips will be used as a top-stitched 1-inch wide [25 mm] appliqué along the bottom edge of the front and back bag sections, while the remaining two strips will be used along the top edges as a Hong Kong finish to the zippered bag opening.

With right sides of the lining to wrong side of the zipper, sew the top of each lining section to the back of the zipper tape. Press the seams away from the zipper and under-stitch lining to zipper tape.


With right sides of contrast trim to right side of zipper, sew the top of each exterior section to the zipper tape. Press the seams away from the zipper and stitch-in-the-ditch along the contrast trim to create the Hong Kong finish detail.

Clip diagonally (45 degrees) into the stay-stitched top corners of the exterior sections and sew short ends of the handle (face up) onto the ends of the zipper tape.

With RST, fold the exterior sections together and match up the contrast trim at the bottom of the bag, along the side seams. Sew up side sides and press open. Perpendicular to the side seam, fold the side of the bag on top of the zipper ends to enclose the bag handle in between. Sew across each end to miter each corner. Set aside.

Note: Before attaching the bag’s bottom section, open the zipper.

Baste a stiff piece of heavy-duty interfacing, cut to size, to the back of the base section. Pin/baste the base section to the bottom edges of the exterior sections. Do this by starting in the middle of each piece and working outward to the sides; allow for the seam allowance at each end. Sew base section in place. Trim away excess interfacing in seam allowances. Clip diagonally (45 degrees) into the seam allowance up to the end of the stitching at each bottom corner at the base section.

Perpendicular to the side seam, fold the side of the bag on top of short ends of the base section to create wide gussets . Sew across each end to miter each corner. Trim any excess interfacing from seam allowance.

Completion of Bag Interior. With RST, align and match up lining sides and bottom together. Sew up side seam and pivot at bottom corner and continue sewing up to 1 inch beyond the corner on each side.

Turn bag right-side-out through the zipper opening and through opening in lining. With WST, match up lining bottom at opening and edge-stitch closed. Drop lining into the cavity of the purse.


Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Ideas, Design Techniques

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.

To see the make up of this bag design idea, click here.


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