Category Archives: Design Insight

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

Permission to Create Junk


Weight-training offers a good metaphor for scheduling creative work.

No one can’t predict whether or not you’ll set a PR (personal record) before going to the gym. In fact, there will be many days when you’ll have a below average workout. Eventually, you’ll figured out that those below average days were just part of the process. The only way to actually lift bigger weights was to continually show up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — regardless of whether any individual workout was good or bad.

Creating design work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t selectively choose your best moments and only work on the days when you have great ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you is to go through a volume of work, put in your repetitions, and show up over and over again. Never settle on the first-go.

Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you have to give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of below average work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to excellent work.

If you’re anything like me, you hate creating something that isn’t excellent. It’s easy to start censoring your work, judging your work and convince yourself to not share something, not trying something new or different, and not ship something because “this isn’t good enough yet.”

But the alternative is even worse: if you don’t have a schedule forcing you to deliver, then it’s really easy to avoid doing the work at all. The only way to be consistent enough to make a masterpiece is to give yourself permission to create junk along the way.


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



Photo: Courtesy of Fine Leatherworking

Thought I’d share with you some insight on leather crafters.

You might want to surf over to Fine Leathercrafting and read Sean’s blog on the subject.

I absolutely concur with his advice to “refine, refine and refine more until you think you can do no better; then get your work out there.”

Oh, by the way, I am not the polite gentleman LOL!

P.S. Take a look at his product line in the Store section too.

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Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Insight


be dior

Photo courtesy of French Vogue

” be dior bag”                               

For your little design zen for today, the Be Dior bag …introduced at the Fall/Winter 2014-2015 collection shows. Watch how it is made, exclusively on as the expert craftsmen at Dior takes us through each step of making their latest it-bag, from the precise leather-cutting, to the different pieces coming together and the neat stitching to finish.


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



Photo Credits: Nyla Noor

“look at it from all angles”

In my mail lately, I have been receiving select jpegs and requests for pattern-drafts based on that chosen item. Upon viewing each submission I often question,  Why am I being asked to draft such a basic bag design?” In my mind’s eye or is it my designer’s brain, I visualize a simple pattern shape. I have to ask, “Why aren’t you seeing it too?

Now if I was being naughty, I’d suspect someone wanted me to do their design homework for them, yet in all truthfulness I’m guessing that those new to the world of fashion design haven’t developed their spatial skills.

Visualization or what is known as, spatial perception in fashion design includes images, symbols, scale diagrams, cutaway diagrams, cross-sections, production flow charts, specification worksheets, technical flats, 3-dimensional illustrations, and flat pattern-making techniques to develop a new product. Along with scheduling time lines, mood & story boards, and other graphic designs to communicate the idea or new concept, these  mental skills are used by designers and manufacturers to bring new products to the marketplace. All require a high degree of visual literacy or visual/spatial abilities and skills.

As for the pattern-drafting, the design and formation of any fashion bag is based upon simple body shapes when laid flat, fit into a square or rectangle, of which the size depends on the final shape and parameters of the pattern. In other words, it’s a box.

Now visualize that box with handles for toting around. Don’t let the “bells and whistles” distract you from the basic shape. Look for the pattern grid( by identifying the elements you plan to use throughout your design. Think out a rough shape, the approximate size of the square or rectangle in your mind. Every bag design has some kind of top finishing which often provides the focal point of the style – the bag ‘opening’; it can be a flap, a frame, a zipper, or a draw-cord detail. The ‘body’ will have 5 planes: front, back, bottom, and 2 ends. The beauty of designing your own is that you can change at will the dimensions of the body cavity, shorten or lengthen straps, add pockets to create your own bag style from scratch. And if you’re like me, it’s easy to take creative risks if you can visualize the finished prototype in your mind’s eye.

Of course creating or adapting a pattern does require a lot of confidence in your spatial skills. In other words, you’ve got to be able to translate a 3-dimensional finished product to a 2-dimensional pattern; or the cutting pieces themselves, if you’re feeling bold and skipping the pattern all together.

What are spatial skills? Basically, they’re what we all use to mentally view objects from all angles…top, front, and side views, from top to bottom. If you’re good at reading a map or solving puzzles, you probably have strong spatial skills. If you “see” the pieces of a bag style, you’ve got it going on the ball.

But if you can’t seem to find your way around your cutting room or if pattern pieces never seem to mentally translate to the finished product, never fear! You can boost those skills with a little practice. Being able to mentally transform 3-D figures to their 2-D equivalents– and vice versa– can be tricky, but there is no special talent required.

If you only recently graduated from school or have recently moved to new abodes, you probably know something about “nets.” Nets are the 2-D representations of 3-D shapes. You know those cardboard boxes that you can buy flattened out and then assemble when you need them? These are examples of “nets”, with regard to visual or spatial perception: First it’s a “cube” net, then it’s a moving box!


Making patterns are much the same. Whenever you do clothing construction or sew up fashion accessories, you start out with flat pattern pieces (2-dimensional). In geometry, these shapes are nets, the foundation of spatial thinking. When we cut them out of the fabric, they’re flat and they may not look at all like what they’re meant to be. A collar may look like a semi-circle at first. Attach it to the neckline, and it curves over the shoulder and around your neck. And like magic, this pattern transforms into an actual collar (3-dimensional).

Zipper bags, tablet sleeves, wallets, and other little organizing carry-alls work the same way. Take a look at these pattern drafts for various bag styles. All began as a flat piece(s) of material.

pattern bag templates 2_Fotor

But you don’t have to completely depend on your mental spatial skills to create or alter a pattern. If you’ve cut the pattern out of paper, just fold and curve it to see if it works. I often do this even if I think I know what I’m doing…. call it “sewing-in-paper”. Many times, the curved pieces of a pattern end up looking more like straight seams on the finished piece. That collar is a perfect example: the curve is actually the inner edge of the collar that sewn into the neckline, while the straight side is folded on itself around the neck, which appears round on the body.

And of course you can always verify your assumptions by making up a mock-up of your design. I do this when I’m trying a new pattern I’ve created or altered, or when the pattern is complex enough and my fabric is expensive enough or in limited supply. It’s a simple case of “measure twice, cut once”.

If your mock-up doesn’t turn out don’t lose faith in your abilities and above all, value these mistakes. Believe it or not, mistakes can be beneficial.  They cause us to search for a different and often better way.  They facilitate experimentation with new materials, techniques, or styles.  Mistakes or challenges (as I like to call them) are an important part of the design process because they provide unique opportunities for creativity. Always make a toile or muslin fitting to test your pattern before cutting into your fashion fabric. Don’t be disappointed if it does not ‘turn out ‘ on the first attempt as planned; that is what creating mock-ups are for. These mock-ups allow you to modify the end result, correct the pattern, and work out the sewing/assembly process.

Now you may ask “ How do I develop my spatial abilities?” Sketch every day and sketch everything.  Keep a record of your ideas in a sketch book. Redesign – redraw – renew your ideas.

  • Draw everyday objects, close-up, and far away.
  • Draw cross sections of objects that have been cut in half, such as fruit or vegetables
  • Draw objects from feeling them through a sock or in a bag.
  • Identify paths through mazes. routes on maps, paths created in  trademark/logos to create visual objects.
  • Look for differences in drawings with discrepant details.
  • Find Waldo, Where’s Waldo and other similar puzzle books.
  • Observe optical illusions.
  • Drawings from observing objects through a microscope, hand lens, telescope, or binoculars. Make drawings from another person’s descriptions.
  • Compare real objects with photographs or drawings of the objects.
  • Create scrapbooks of objects as they change over time.
  • Drawing a plant from day to day or season to season.
  • Drawing interactions of other objects.
  • Activities that involve figure rotations, reflections, projections, and pattern recognition.
  • Use of pattern blocks, attribute games, Geoblocks, Unifix cubes, Cuisenaire rods and cubes.
  • Brainstorm with drawings and story board collages.

So, if you’re resisting the urge to create your own patterns or alter one that you love, turn on your math brain, do some sketches and let your spatial skills work for you.


Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Insight



Photo Credit: CRFashionbook

Recently a fellow designer sent out a call for pattern-testers ( ). Designers do this often for research & development and quality-assurance of a new product.

Have you thought of being a pattern tester? It is just as it sounds, it means you test new patterns to ensure their accuracy before they are released to the public.  Testing patterns can be done for many items including handbags, children’s clothing, felt toys and quilt blocks to name just a few.

When you first start testing patterns, that entrepreneurial spirit kicks in and asks, “how much do I get paid?” Well, that’s the thing about most pattern testing. You do it for free.

Yes, you are “compensated” by receiving a copy of the pattern before it’s released, and sometimes you might be given fabulous fabric to work with as well. And you just might have your workmanship showcased on the company’s website once the pattern goes live. But in general, pattern testers are just helping out the designer, just for the love of it.

Back when I started, I was always looking to try new things, but without a large budget to invest in research & development, I relied on bartering skills and buying overstock of fellow designers’ sampling inventory at give-away prices. You see manufacturers are required to buy 10 yards of fabric to sample with when they order from wholesalers. If a dress takes up 3 yards to make, what do you do with the remaining seven? How else could I afford luxurious silks and cashmeres! And, that’s where the pattern testing part caught my interest.  I looked for talented sewers and cutters who shared my passion for fashion design. They often came from the local school of fashion…kind of an internship, you might say. It is an opportunity to learn something new about writing patterns, marketing and other things that go into patterns and designing a collection. It’s also exciting to be involved in something that is still in the works.

I’ve heard some discussion about people doing sewing or testing work for free, claiming it undervalues good skills. And while I see both sides of the argument, I can only add my experience to the mix. You gain a lot from being a pattern tester and sharing your ideas. Besides networking and making connections, your work may be featured online and in print, and you may learn to make things that you probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I know that it’s not cold hard cash, but that’s not always the motivation with creativity.

How do I become a pattern tester? 

What works best is to simply to follow designers whose work you enjoy and answer any calls for help. Social networks are a good place to watch for these opportunities. If there are designers you’d really love to work with, send them a message to let them know. If you have adorable kids to model clothing, or if you’re an amazing photographer, let them know.

Do I have to be super experienced?

Not necessarily. Be honest about your abilities – most designers want people with sewing skills from beginner to advanced trying their patterns. This will help them determine how difficult to rate their final patterns, or they may edit them to add in more detailed instructions. It is best, though, to have a basic knowledge of how to read a pattern and how to follow the instructions.

How does it work?

Designers put out calls for testers on social networks or their blogs. Once you’ve been selected, you usually receive a digital or PDF copy of the pattern. You’ll be given a deadline, and sometimes there will be an evaluation form to complete. You’ll probably be asked to include several photos of the finished project as well.

Do I have to use my own supplies?

That is often the case. Designers like to see their creation in a multitude of different fabrics and they are interested in how you might interpret their look. Other times, a specific material is needed. So if it requires special fabric or hardware, make sure you can get your hands on some and still have enough time to complete the test before agreeing to help. Sometimes the company may provide fabric and hardware to make up the prototype.

What if I find a mistake?

If you do come across something that’s not clear, or that seems incorrect, make note of it. Double-check yourself first, and if there still is a problem, let the designer know as soon as possible. He or she can then make changes and let the other testers know, which saves everyone time in the long run.

You might find spelling or grammar errors, so be sure to point those out as well. No one wants to go public with something only to find mistakes afterward. Be honest, but be kind as well. Keep your criticism constructive.

One last thing: You need to be a good communicator. Be sure to let the designer know if something comes up and you can’t make a deadline.

Ever wanted to be in on the cutting edge of something new? You may want to add pattern tester to your list of skills!


Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Insight


b totes'_Fotor_Fotor

You don’t have to be a fourth generation Rockefeller or a Nantucket vacationer to have a monogram. A monogram is a great way to personalize travel and small leather goods, as well as, your own daily-use carry-all. Whether traditional and elaborate or modern and minimal, BAG’N-TELLE will help you design a DIY monogram that jives with your personality, aesthetic, and fashion image.

What is a monogram? A monogram tells a little bit about you. It suggests who we are or want to be, puts forth our views on lifestyle, tradition, and individual identity, not to mention the wonderful things it does for the customization of your own bag designs. A monogram consists of a person’s initials — usually a variation on the first, middle, and last name and much has been written about proper monogram etiquette, yet in the end your monogram should tell a story about you.


1. Choose A Letter Style

mono 2_Fotor

Embellish your bag design with a full name, team mascot, title or initials, with one of these eye-catching arrangements.

Note: The traditional monogram layout would be first initial, last initial, then middle initial.

2. Choose A Font Style


Find your favourite font, whether you prefer a serif, no serif or a timeless script.

3. Choose A Colour Scheme*


Monochromatic – for a subtle, safe look

analo revised 2_Fotor

Analogous – for a lively, smart look


Complementary – for a high contrast, bold look

With shades ranging from black to something a bit brighter, the thread/ink choice is yours. Make your statement as subtle or as bold as you like.

* Lettering colours vary based on fabric colour and should harmonize the overall bag design.

4. Personalize


When your style, thread colour, font and arrangement come together, the result is a wonderful look that is truly, uniquely yours.

5. Other Options

Beside embroidery, there are other ways to produce a personalized look to your bag design.

Try fabric printing/silk-screening. Copyright-free images can be easily be found on the Internet and used with iron-on or fabric transfer paper. There are many design motifs to choose from to give you ideas for your projects. Inkjet printers transfer kits are available in the marketplace and manufacturer’s instructions are easy to follow.

Paint and inks too messy? Perhaps an iron-on transfer?lettering_Fotor

Many sewing notion retailers offer press-on letter transfers. These items use a “hot fix” technique utilizing letter fonts and motifs. Kits are available as embroidered lettering or glass flat-back beads available in gemstone colours and rhinestone. Letters can be cut out and arranged to make a monogram or personal “logo”.

Still too complicated?

Look for embellishments to add to your bag design such as monogrammed buttons or key fobs.

luggage tag_Fotor_CollageMonogram keychains and monogram bag tags are available in lots of modern and traditional styles. Many of the styles can be designed in the pattern colours, accent colours, and fonts that will compliment your bag design.

Harmonize your metals. Match the metal colour and finish of your button/fob selections to coordinate with that of any bag fittings or metal zippers used in your bag design.

Finding your luggage in an instant with a bright coloured bag tag with your name or monogram on it makes travelling a breeze.

So there you are….a few ideas to inspire you how to truly make it your own. I am certain, you have a few creative ideas of your own.


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