Tag Archives: bag construction


quilted lining_incase
Credit: photo by Incase

Designing a protective bag collection needs to be produced with three things in mind – conveyance, organization and co-ordination. Begin with a super durable fashion fabric for the exterior so that the bag will take you through your travels and beyond. It should be spacious and the perfect size for urban commutes and easy air travel. Remember some airlines have weight and size restrictions for carry-on baggage. Leather, suede, vinyls, waxed canvas are ideal choices as they are rugged and durable.

For the inside of the bag, the interior layer should be a soft-textured, moisture-resistant bonded fabric for easy sliding and ensures good protection against water and dust. Waterproof fabric make it suitable for swimwear, sun creams and conventional shopping. While, a padded interior made with a soft-textured quilted lining fabric or reinforced middle padded layer will provide superior protection against impact and leakage. Typically, the middle layer is foam or batting of 1/4 inch (6 mm). Between the exterior and interior layers (lining), this middle layer has a dual purpose: to protect the item(s) from scratches, bumps and smudges; and, in order to add structural body to the bag and its outward appearance.

On the practical side, you want to guard sensitive electronics with anti-scratch, smudge-free surfaces such as sueded microfibre polyester or neoprene as a smart addition. Use  high-quality nylon Riri® zippers to ensure a smooth operating yet scratch-free closure. You may want to include dedicated compartments for storing travel adaptors, cables and wires, as well.

When creating a bag style for carrying or storing fragile items, try to design a dedicated tote for that item, meaning that the dimensions of the bag is based upon the dimensions of the item being stored or carried, such as bag shapes found for laptop bags or casserole carriers.inserts In other cases, you might consider a padded lining or a flexible padded insert for the interior. Removable padded linings will allow you to customize the shape and division of the interior compartments to hold different or odd shapes, such as found in styles for gadget bags and keepsake storage, while keeping the exterior portion of the bag fixed yet roomy-in-scale.

Construction seams should be doubled for extra strength and durability, yet hidden for aesthetics and easy access. I often like to add adjustable and detachable carrying straps to the bag styling. This provides the flexibility of transporting your belongings truly “hands free” while en route.

When selecting fabrics for bag interiors, you may want to choose napped fabrics as their textures are characteristically a soft hand textile and will prevent scratching and make sliding of the item, easy. There are many upholstery napped fabrics with bonded foam backings to provide a cushioned surface, as well.

Pre-quilted fabrics are ideal for protective handbag making. They are conventionally fabricated in cotton and cotton blends with 100% polyester batting. They make perfect padded bag interiors while adding body to the exterior of the bag. Many pre-quilted patterns are offered in double-sided or reversible styles, and thermal or reflective styles making them perfect for simplifying bag construction and keeping it lightweight.


Batting is often constructed of different types of fibers held together using a variety of methods, so that it does not clump within the lining or break apart. Batting comes is different thicknesses: Low loft is thin (most popular for quilting), and High loft which is thick (commonly used in upholstered furnishings).

Manufacturers use these most common methods for holding the fibers together:

  • Fusible Batting: This is the fibre-fill that most quilters use in their projects. It can be used doubled over for a high loft, or pull it apart into a thin low-loft batting. It’s popular with the construct-as-you-go techniques and I have only ever used it for small projects. You can buy batting that already has the fusible applied so that just by using the iron it temporarily attaches the top, batting, and backing together, rather than having to baste or pin the layers. This is especially convenient for smaller projects (since you use a steam iron to fuse the layered “sandwich”).
  • Needle-punched: The fibres in the batting are mechanically felted together by punching them with thousands of tiny needles. This causes the batting to be stronger and denser while being lower loft. Because of the denseness of this batting it isn’t generally good for hand stitching. These types of batting will tend to migrate but will not bunch and shift if machine-stitched to the lining material.
  • Reflective Batting: Keep it hot or keep it cold with needled insulated/reflective lining (common brand names are Insul Bright and 3M Thinsulate). Manufacturers offer an easy-to-cut-and-sew form and the option to choose between waterproof/windproof and breathable/wind-resistant. Use in wine totes, casserole warmers, lunch bags and picnic totes. The hollow fibers resist conduction while the reflective metallic poly film resists radiant energy. The energy, hot or cold, is reflected back to its source.
  • Scrim: A thin stabilizer that is needle-punched into the batting to add strength, loft, and to prevent stretching and distorting. Most battings have a scrim backing.

Heat n Bond Ultrahold Iron-On adhesive is a paper-backed sheet of solid heat activated adhesive. It uses a low temperature & short pressing time so it allows for a wider range of materials that can be bonded. Use with fabric, foil, lame, denim, felt, suede, leather, wood and cardboard. It is machine washable. There is no steam or pressing cloth needed. It will not lift or pucker after washing. It’s no-sew bond is three times stronger than any other traditional fusible web. I find this product helpful in creating my own fusible fabrics.

wine toteUrethane foam is the material commonly known as foam rubber, which is produced by blowing gas into a heated, liquid chemical mixture. When it dries, the foam rubber is porous and spongy, and the gas trapped within the urethane foam gives it great insulative properties. This same material is used as cushioning for upholstered trunks, gig bags for musical instruments, and soft-sided luggage.

For handbags, a thin film of polyurethane finish is added to a polyester weave to create polyurethane laminate (PUL), which is used for its waterproof and windproof properties in wardrobe bags, camera bags, wine totes, and so forth.

MICHAEL-KORS-Neoprene-Ipad-Case-TANGERINE_92779_957f61af9db4f9f815dadb468640e1c3Neoprene has become a favourite material for lifestyle and other home accessories including padded handbags. In this market, it sometimes competes with LRPs (low-resilience polyurethane), which is a sturdier (more impact-resistant) but less-used material. LRPs are often molded to the shape of the item.

Neoprene resists degradation more than natural or synthetic rubber. This relative inertness makes it well suited for demanding applications such as a base for protective inserts and as padding in external metal cases to protect the contents while allowing a snug fit. This is ideal for laptop bags, tablet carriers, and mobile phones.

You should know the difference between a protective sleeve and a padded bag, as well as the variations, accessories, materials, and design choices. Essentially, bags are larger cases that offer more protection and more storage space than sleeves. Sleeves offer minimal protection, but are sleek and lightweight. Since most laptop devices are standard sizes, you should be able to create a sleeve or a bag with ease.

Still, designing a protective tote bag is a creative endeavour and has just as much to do with your lifestyle and the way you use your items, as it does with the size and shape of its fragile contents. Whether it is a tablet, casserole dish, bottle of wine, or any other breakable item, you will need the dimensions of that particular item to make a dedicated carrier. Length or height for the vertical measurements and width or circumference for the horizontal measurements are required to draft the pattern. To account for the depth or thickness of the item, plus the thickness of the type of padding being used, you must add ease into your pattern. This added ease will allow the item to slip into the carrier easily yet be snug enough to provide protection against impact or scratching. The thickness or loft of the padding used is usually determined by the degree of protection needed. Therefore, bag measurements will appear as such:

Height = length of item + depth of item + thickness of padding + 2 seam allowances


Width = width of item + depth of item + thickness of padding + 2 seam allowances


Depth = thickness of item + (2 x thickness of padding)

Storage compartments to hold auxiliary items such as chargers and cables, may be added to the exterior without compromising on the fit of the carrier. They can be designed as pockets with flaps or as pouch-style sleeves. The size of the bag will not affected.

In the case of photography or musical equipment, where the padding is loftier and denser, you may need a liner for the interior of the carrier bag as its exterior is often larger in volume to accommodate the individual inserts and various flexible configurations for transport. The contents should not jostle while being transported.

vony toteIn the case of wine totes and casserole/picnic thermal carriers, temperature is a factor to be considered, as well as protection. Keep it hot or keep it cold with an insulated/reflective protective lining. The hollow fibers resist conduction, meaning the fabric is breathable or wicks to keep interiors dry, while the reflective metallic layer resists radiant energy. The energy, hot or cold, is reflected back to its source.

In all cases, have durable carrier handles/straps to protect the contents and your hands, and make transporting your belongings easier.



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


high octane010

Courtesy: Threads Magazine

“High Octane Clutch”

Check out my latest quick-to-make project for Threads magazine and create a clutch with clean lines and a contrast zipper like a racing stripe across the body. Available options include detachable wrist or shoulder straps, and an interior divider. You can take this streamlined concept and make it travel with interesting zippers, hardware, and eye-­catching textured fabrics or faux leathers. It’s a great stash-buster project, because you can use fusible interfacing to change the fabric’s hand and weight and make a wide variety of textiles work for this accessory.

The construction is speedy for a few reasons. The bag exterior and lining are each single, folded pieces. threads009The layers are sewn as one unit and finished later, to halve the num­ber of bag elements you make and handle. The finished bags have folds at top and bottom, curved side seams, and 1/2-inch wide seam allowances throughout. The samples shown are 10 inches wide, 7 inches high, and feature a 10-inch exposed zipper. The wrist strap clips onto to the zipper pull or D-rings sewn into the side seams. And for a final boost, the seams are straight or gentle curves, so you can finish this project in record time.

Look for my streamlined steps to make a fast and easy handbag in the Quick-To-Make project in the November 2013 issue of THREADS Magazine (#169) pg. 28-31. (www.threadsmagazine.com)


Filed under Bag'n-telle


cabatPhoto: Bottega Veneta

Italian luxury goods house, Bottega Veneta, best known for its leather goods offers some inspiring little vignettes on beautiful craftsmanship called “Hand of the Artisan”. My favourite is Cabat. Truly inspiring and a recognition of the importance of artisanal craftsmanship and the diminishing number of master leather-workers in the world of fashion.



Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Inspiration


zipper coil

In the fashion industry, handbag manufacturers cut and make their own zippers to length. There are a number of reasons why you would want to make your own zipper using continuous zipper chain.

  • While handbag and luggage zippers are available at your sewing notion retailer, the supply is limited and may not be to the length that you may require for your prototype. By making your own, you can customize the length and style of the zipper you want ie: one way non-separating, two-way non-separating or one-end-closed. [NOTE: The only style of zipper you cannot make with continuous chain is a one-way or a two-way separating zipper, such as a jacket style zipper].
  • When you make your own zipper you can select the style of zipper slider you desire: non-locking, locking, key locking or double reversible.
  • Often times it is more economical to make your own. To determine how much to cut for a custom zipper, add 2″ [5 cm] to the desired length you want the final zipper length to be (1″ [2.5 cm] extra for each end) of continuous zipper chain.


PARTS OF A ZIPPERTOP STOP – Two permanent stays affixed to the top most end of a zipper, to prevent the slider from coming off the chain.

SLIDER HEAD – The device that moves up and down the chain to open or close the zipper.

PULL TAB – The part of the slider that is held to move the slider up or down.

ZIPPER CHAIN (CONTINUOUS) – a length of zipper tape, either coil or tooth style, sold by the yard. Allows you to make and customize your own zippers. At least one end must be sewn closed. It cannot be used to make separating jacket zippers.

ZIPPER TAPE – The fabric part of the zipper.

BOTTOM STOP – A permanent stay similar to a large staple, used at the bottom end of a zipper to prevent each half of the zipper from separating.

INSERTION PIN – A device used on a separating (jacket type) zipper whose function is to allow the joining of the two zipper halves.

RETAINER BOX – A device used on a separating (jacket type) zipper whose function is to correctly align the pin.

ZIPPER SLIDER & PULL: the sliding head on the zipper. The actual pull is the articulated lever attached to the slider. [Note:the zipper sliders from one brand (ie: YKK brand) are usually not interchangeable with other zipper brands (ie: Riri brand zippers, etc.)]


  1.  single slider-a zipper slider with only one pull
  2. double-reversible slider – a zipper slider with a pull tab on both sides of the slider. Uses: reversible totebags
  3. non-locking slider – a zipper slider which slides easily and has no internal locking mechanism to hold it inplace. Uses: purse pockets, handbags, luggage
  4. auto-locking slider – a zipper slider which has an internal locking mechanism to hold the slider in place. Uses: handbag openings
  5. key locking slider – a zipper slider which locks and unlocks with a removable key. Uses: security envelopes, portfolios, luggage


A. One-way Non-separating Bag Zipper

one way non separating coil zipper1

Uses: Purse Openings, Inset zip pockets

B. Two-way Non-separating Bag Zipper (head-to-head)

 2 way non separating coil zipper2

Uses: Totebags, Portfolios, Luggage

C. Reversible Non-separating Bag Zipper (flip pull tab)

reversible zip

Uses: Reversible Totes


For many bag projects it is your preference which style you choose:zip chain

TOOTH STYLE: have individual teeth in metal or plastic set on a cloth tape. Metal colour and finish are usually matched to bag fittings. Plastic zippers are ideal for marine and saltwater uses.

COIL STYLE: often called self-repairing, has a continuous spiral of nylon filament set on a cloth tape. It is more flexible and smoother running than toothed zippers. As a general rule, typically the #5 is for small evening bag styles and the #7 & #8 are used for handbags and luggage.

TOOTH/COIL SIZE: the smaller the number the smaller the gauge size of the chain: ie. #5 is smaller than #10 and thus not as strong.



The purpose of zipper stops is to keep the zipper sliders from derailing when the zipper is in use. In handbag construction, use of top and bottom stops can be optional. If the ends of the zipper chain are sewn into a seam, you may choose not to attach top/bottom stops because the seam will act as the “stops”.  I often use what is known as a “wedge” instead of a stop.

tabAnother option is to attach a grip tab to each end of the zipper chain. It is often made from the fashion fabric used in the prototype. This finish will prevent the zipper slider from dislodging while the tab itself can be gripped in the hand when operating the zipper.

When using zipper stops, bottom stops are attached to one end of a one end closed zipper and both ends of a one or two-way non-separating zipper. Bag manufacturers tend to use the latter method. Top stops are used at the top end (the “open” end) of a one-end closed zipper and usually are not very practical in handbag design.


For #5 and #8 coil and #5 tooth zipper use #8 stops. For #10 coil and #10 tooth zipper use #10 stops.


1). Cut the zip chain to length plus 2” [5 cm].

2). On one end of the zipper chain (tape), part the zipper teeth about 2″ [5 cm].

fig 13). fig 2Insert one side of the zipper about 1/4 ” [6 mm] into the curved end of the zipper slider.

[NOTE: On double pull sliders place the slider so that the angled portion of the flange is up],

4). Insert the other end of the zipper into the slider. To prevent misalignment on the other end of the zipper line up the short ends of the zipper tape evenly.

fig 3

5). Firmly holding both zipper halves slide the slider onto the zipper teeth. It may take several attempts to line up the zipper teeth and to prevent a bulge on one side of the zipper tape if the teeth are misaligned.

6). Apply stops to each end of the zipper. Trim away any excess at zipper ends with pinking shears to neaten.


[NOTE: When putting two zipper sliders on the same zipper tape, attach the second slider on the opposite end of the zipper tape using the same method as above so that the sliders are facing head-to-head].


Zipper failures are usually the result of the zipper slider wearing out, especially if no apparent damage is noticeable to the zipper teeth. For zippers where the teeth separate after the zipper is closed, a possible solution (though at times only a temporary one) is to pinch the slider from the top of the slider to the bottom of the slider with a pair of pliers to seat the slider closer to the zipper teeth (not too tight though). If this does not work, try replacing the slider before replacing the entire zipper.

Coil zipper are a bit more forgiving as they are often called “self-repairing” zippers. Should the coil break open, carefully pull the slider to the “open” position at the bottom of the zipper then re-zip the fastener to correct the problem. Otherwise, if there is a kink or break in the spiral filament, the whole zipper will need to be replaced.


The following construction method works well to clear the teeth in the path of the machine-stitching and eliminate the bulk when installing zippers in a seam.

  1. wedgeCut the length of zipper needed for the project minus 2″ [5 cm] (ie. for a 25″ zipper cut a 23″ length of zipper. Install zipper slider(s).
  2. Cut 2 strips for wedges out of the project fabric (I often use the selvedge edge as it is waste), 2″ [5 cm] long by width of the zipper tape.
  3. On each end of zipper, pin each zipper wedge face side down to right side of zipper matching short raw edges.
  4. Using a zipper foot, stitch 1/2″ [12 mm] from raw edge.
  5. Fold zipper wedge out flat & top stitch 1/4″ [6 mm] from edge with zipper foot.
  6. Install into bag project and trim excess of wedge in seam allowance.


At times if you are designing a single bag, it may be easier to purchase a ready-made zipper if it meets your design specifications. In such a case, purchase a separating zipper (aka jacket zip) which is longer in length than what you require for the prototype. For example, if the finished bag opening is 18” [46 cm] long, buy a separating zipper that is 20”+ [51 cm+] in length, plus 2 zipper stops.)


1. Determine the final length you want the bag zipper to be. Measure this amount plus 2” [5 cm], from the stops at the top end of the separating zipper when the zipper is closed. Mark this length with chalk on the zipper tape. (see A)

2. Cut across the zipper tape at the chalk mark. Discard the bottom end of the zipper. (see B)

3. Attach the new zipper stop over the teeth channel on the face side of the zipper. Ensure the prongs of the zipper stop insert through the zipper tape completely. Bend the prongs flat against the back of the zipper teeth using pinch-nose pliers.

4. Pull apart the zipper teeth on the cut end up to the stop.

5. Using bull-nose pliers, carefully remove the excess teeth from the tape. (see C)

6. Neaten the zipper end by trimming it with pinking shears. Allow the same seam allowance from the stop as the amount at the top end of the zipper. This is usually 5/8 of an inch [15 mm].

7. You may add the second stop to the top end of the zipper to close both ends or use the existing original zipper stops. (optional – see D)

8. The zipper is ready to install in the bag.

shortening a zip


1. Determine the final length you want the bag zipper to be. Measure this amount from the stops at the top end of the separating zipper when the zipper is closed. Mark this length with chalk on the zipper tape.

2. Attach a new zipper stop over the zipper coil on the face side of the zipper. Ensure the prongs of the zipper stop insert through the zipper tape completely. Bend the prongs flat against the back of the coil using pinch-nose pliers.

3. Repeat step #2 at the open end of the zipper.

4. Once the stops are in place, measure from the end stop an amount equal to the top end of the zipper and mark its location on the tape with chalk. Cut through the coil and discard the retainer box end of the separating zipper.

5. Using a match or candle, sear the raw edges of the nylon coil to prevent raveling.

6. The zipper is now ready to install.


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


Pop rivet gun 800

One of the best tools for setting rivets into webbing,  leather, and cloth strapping is the pop rivet gun. The rivet is a particular advancement on the nut and bolt, and can be used to secure pieces of leather together where you cannot get into flat with a sewing machine. Riveting has the advantage of securely fastening two layers together where the material is too thick to do so otherwise.

The tool itself works on a spring mechanism which draws the pin of the blind rivet close to its head before deforming the metal. You can change the size of the pin dye to match the size of rivet you wish to use (see fig. 1). Blind rivets, or pop rivets named after the sound they make when they are fastened, are one of the lesser rivets being used for handbag assembly and are available in various sizes and light metals such as copper, tin, and aluminum. These rivets are round in shape, and have a small pin-like shape at the bottom, which is used to seal the rivet. (see fig. 2)fig 1

If you are unsure about how to use a pop rivet gun, here are some simple rules to follow that should help you to get the job done.

Step 1 – Preparing

The first thing to do is to put on your safety glasses for eye protection.  Once you are ready, use a hole punch to puncture holes in two pieces of leather, or thread the purse hardware onto leather strapping and fold the strapping end back on itself to hold the hardware in place, then punch the desired size hole. Keep the hole small yet just big enough to allow the rivet pin to enter snugly. Align the leather so that it has overlapping holes, and are fixed together as you would want. You may wish to hold the leather layers together in some fashion, such as double-sided basting tape, or some rubber cement. I use binder clips to hold the two layers together, as well, to prevent the layers from shifting.

Step 2 – Add the Rivetrivet2

Take a rivet, and place it into the pop rivet tool with the pin shape towards the tool. Let the round head of the rivet rest against the holding edge of the rivet tool. Apply a gentle pressure to the handle of the tool, in order to keep the rivet in place, and then push the top of the rivet through both layers of leather. Make sure that it goes through both sides and there is nothing impeding the rivet. For softer leathers, I place a small metal washer between the 2 layers of leather to reinforce its attachment.

Step 3 – Close the Rivet

Now you have the rivet in position, apply steady pressure downwards onto the leather surface while pushing hard on the spring-action handle of the tool. Let the handle go, and make sure that the rivet gun is right next to the head of the rivet (see fig. 3). rivet 1Squeeze the handle again, and repeat pumping the handle until the pop rivet makes a loud popping noise, and pulls away from the rivet. What should happen is that the gun will force the pin shape through the rivet, and out towards the head, while both top and bottom of the rivet expand, thereby preventing them from passing back through the holes they were pushed into. The pop rivet gun will push the pin right through until there is a slight popping sound, which means that the pin has broken off, and the rivet is sealed.

Step 4 – Finishingbag-hdwre

Finish off the task by turning the pop rivet gun over, and allowing the pin to exit out of the head of the tool. You can then install another pop rivet and repeat the process, or you can smooth down the ends of your new rivet with a piece of sandpaper, in order to remove any sharp edges where the pin broke away.

It’s a great tool to have in your tool kit and makes handbag construction an easy job with professional results.


Filed under Design Techniques



photo credit: Rob Whitfield

Thank you to all my followers for making the first week of my online design class a huge success.


Filed under Bag'n-telle



I am happy to announce the launch of my classroom series, “Making Leather Bags” on Craftsy.com.   It is kind of like studying Leather 101.

I’ll be showing how to work with leather, how to plan and construct your own leather handbag styles, and how to customize it to make it your own. This is not traditional leather-crafting but mass-production methods using your own domestic sewing machine. I show how to create one-of-a-kind bag designs using leather and share some tricks of the trade right from the factory floor.

Use this link to enroll and get my introductory discount:


I hope you will enjoy this class as much as I enjoyed making it for you.



Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Insight