Better Bag Making

Next-Level Bag Making: Pro Tips From a Sage Sewist

Hello, fellow bag makers! It's Annie here, and I have taken over the blog to bring you some tips that will really help your bags look professional. As you may know, I have been sewing for over forty years, and with a background in quilting and a decidedly "Type A" personality, I am officially Red Rabbit Mercantile's Resident Perfectionist. In this post, I will share a few of my tips for getting a perfect finish on your next bag. 

#1: A Smooth Fit for the Lining

In most bag patterns, including Red Rabbit Mercantile patterns, the bag's main body pieces and lining pattern pieces will be the same dimensions. Because the lining is going on the inside of the bag, and is also usually made out of fabric that is a bit stretchier than the main body fabric, a common problem in homemade bags is a saggy lining. The remedy is as simple as increasing the seam allowance of your lining so that the finished lining is slightly smaller than the outer bag. I like to make my side seam allowances just a hair larger than those of outer bag seams, and my bottom and boxed seams a full 1/8” larger. Don’t forget that the outer body will be made from a thicker, bulkier fabric (possibly with little stretch) so make your adjustments with the lining not the outer fabric. Care taken now will be rewarded every time you put your hand into your bag.

Increase your seam allowances slightly to ensure a nice fit for your lining!

Increase your seam allowances slightly to ensure a nice fit for your lining!

#2: Turning Your Bag With Ease

The best step in bag making has to be when you turn your bag right side out and finally see the results of what will be your finished project. Hopefully you don't gasp as you realize your handles are twisted or you sewed a pocket on upside down. I have a few suggestions for how to make sure that turning your bag goes well. 

First, when sewing the bottom seam of your lining,  try reducing the length of your stitches to make sure this seam is very strong. Leave yourself a generous gap in the bottom seam- small is not better here! Backstitch at either end of the opening of the gap. Once your seam is sewn, press the seam allowance open, making sure you have a nice crisp crease. Gently roll the lining through the gap first, followed by the rest of the bag. Think about putting on a fragile sweater. Ease the bag through with patience and more patience. It will be worth it. 

#3: Perfect Topstitching

You may be feeling fatigued by the time you get to one of the final steps in finishing your bag: topstitching around the top opening. Resist the urge to rush this step, as this row of stitches is one of the most visible and it will drive you crazy if it isn't perfect. 

Many sewing machines have an automatic thread cutter. They are great but not for this application. Give yourself two long tails of thread. Hold them taut and start topstitching forward, about 1/8" away from the edge of the fabric. No need to back tack yet. Topstitch around the opening of your bag, going slowly and being careful. If you come to very thick area, put a folded piece of fabric under the back of your machine's foot so that your foot is level as you approach the thick area. When you return to your starting point, slow down, pull the tails to the side, and slightly sew over the beginning stitches. Back tack with the tails still to the side. Trim neatly. Your bobbin thread can get very sloppy if you don’t keep track of it! 

Perfect topstitching goes along way in making a bag look professional

Perfect topstitching goes along way in making a bag look professional

#4 Style Considerations

As sewists we have mixed feelings about hearing the phrase "did you make that?" I think we can all agree that we would much rather hear "I can't believe you made that!" To make sure that your bag looks handmade rather than homemade, consider these guidelines:

1) Match your threads: Use thread that matches the fabric you are sewing. We've all been there-when you don't have the right color thread and you decide that contrasting thread is a cool design detail. Usually it's not. Red Rabbit Mercantile has recommendations for Guterman thread colors to match our fabrics.

In this early Chamomile Tote sample, Mariah forgot to switch her bobbin thread to match the lining for the final step. Not a good looking design detail!

In this early Chamomile Tote sample, Mariah forgot to switch her bobbin thread to match the lining for the final step. Not a good looking design detail!

2) Match your metals: Decide on a finish for your hardware and stick with it. We have taken care of this piece for you with our kits- all of our hardware has an antique brass finish that looks great!

3) Use the right weight fabric: As Project Runway fans know, fabric choice can make or break any sewing project. A common error in bag making is using fabric that is too lightweight. The result can be a droopy bag that doesn't perform well over time. All of Red Rabbit Mercantile's patterns are designed to be sewn in waxed canvas with an Eco Twill lining, which is what we sell in our kits. The great thing about this combo is that it doesn't require any additional interfacing or interlining. 

I hope that you find these tips helpful! As always, if you need additional help, check out our blog for more great bag making information, or contact us!