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Bag Making made simple with Annie Zorzo

Keeping it Simple with the Linnden Tote – Guest Blog Post by Annie Zorzo

I never thought about this too much before, but it’s really quite obvious and TRUE! There is something sewing related for all of us that we are scared to attempt.  It’s not the same for everyone, and even the new sewer should feel reassured, as even the most experience sewer has something that they shy away from.  Why?  Simply because sewing particular things are outside our normal comfort zone and area of expertise.

For me it’s clothing.  I can do the basics – mending, hemming and some small alterations, but making clothes from scratch really does scare me!  It didn’t occur to me that some sewers might think the same in reverse about Bag Making.  And now that it’s be pointed out to me, I understand.  A lot of what goes into a bag, is completely unseen as it forms part of the inner layers – it’s all the extra interfacing, reinforcing, glue and tapes.  Then add the different bag hardware options (and actually fitting them), the extra details like the best threads to use, edge coats and even some terminology!  And then there is the big one….you decide to make a bag with some leather, vinyl or cork.

Yep…. if you’re not a bag maker, you may have just read that and said to yourself “I’m not going there”.  But I’m here to tell you, you can totally can and get great results quite simply!

My pattern in Issue 18 of One Thimble is the Linnden Tote.  It was designed as a large yet simple and stylish tote that’s perfect for busy parents going to after school activities, weekend sport or like me over this summer the beach day after day.  There is one word out of all of the above that I want to stress…. SIMPLE!  Yes, that’s right, in terms of bag making, the Linnden Tote is simple.

Pic 1 - Linnden Tote

The Linnden Tote at Sharks Bay Evans Head

I wanted to use this blog post to go through some of the design features and requirements for the Linnden Tote for the non-bag sewers.  I could go into great detail about all the things typically used when making bags, but here I want to give you simple and ready available alternatives that will take away any fears you may have about making the Linnden Tote, and make it achievable for you in the simplest way possible.  So let’s get into it….

Interfacing – what interfacing?
The Linnden Tote is completely unlined so there is no need to add interfacing to any of the body pieces – YAY!  However, to combat this a heavier weight upholstery fabric is needed, and I can’t stress this enough.  You just won’t get the same intended finish with this bag with quilting cotton or other light weight fabrics.  Check out the furnishing section in your local fabric stores for something heavier weight and more durable.  A heavy denim or canvas will look equally beautiful and be sturdy.  Pick a solid colour for an elegant look, or pick a pattern for some personality…but do keep it to a heavier weight for strength and structure.

Pic 2 - Fabric Options

Suitable fabrics for the Linnden Tote:  Heavy weight Denim, Upholstry fabrics, Duct Cotton, Canvas

Nature’s Leather…Cork
My designs almost always have a leather element to them and my patterns talk you through using leather.  However, I totally understand the fears people have working with leather and personal choices of not using an animal based material.  Leather in my patterns can be replaced with man-made vinyl, or cork which is often called “Nature’s Leather”.  The easier of these three options is cork and as someone new to sewing bags, I would recommend you use cork before the other two options.

Pic 3 - Cork

Cork comes in a variety of colours and prints and is fixed onto a woven backing.

Cork is a 100% natural plant based tissue, it’s strong, soft and flexible, and an absolute dream to sew with.  Unlike leather, cork is the same thickness across the entire area and unlike vinyl it is easier to sew with.  While a walking or Teflon sewing machine foot would make sewing the thicker layers easier (and I totally recommend a walking foot), cork can be sewn with a normal sewing machine foot.

But there is still another way that using Cork in the Linnden Tote is awesome option.  The cork is already glued onto a woven support backing, so it does not require any interfacing.  Again you have another element of the bag where simplicity is key.

Back to ‘Base’ics
I love bags that have a more structured base.  It allows them to sit nicely when you put them down, creates a more ordered internal space, and is just lovely to look at.  As the Linnden Tote is a large bag, the addition of the structured base stops it turning into a sack, and there are so many ways you can create this flat base.

The usual method is to use a firm stabiliser like Peltex/Pellon/Legacy 70 or 71F… but you can use a number of other readily available alternatives. Here’s a little secret – the hardware store is a treasure trove for bag makers.  In the past I’ve used rope, pipe, corflute and even a metal carpet joiner strip in my bags.  The point is, what-ever you use is going to be inside the bag completely unseen and no-one is going to know what you’ve used.  As long as it does the job you need it to and you can work with the material/s, think outside the box!

So what are some simple options for your reinforced base besides Peltex 70 or 71F?

  • Marine grade vinyl.
  • Floor vinyl or linoleum.
  • Flexible plastic front cover of an A3 Art Sketchbook.
  • Flexible plastic bases of re-usable supermarket shopping bags.
  • Thin flexible chopping boards from cheap shops or Ikea.
Pic 4 - Chopping Board Base Alternative

Stabiliser / Reinforcing alternatives include thin plastic chopping boards.  These are from Ikea

If using vinyl or linoleum, a few layers together will give your base more structure.  To keep them together, sew up a simple cotton casing and slip it the vinyl pieces inside.  Where the Linnden Tote pattern calls for you to sew through the reinforcing at the external box corners, only have one layer of the vinyl to this size and cut the others smaller so you have less layers to sew through. Remove as much thickness as you can from the seam lines.

With the flexible plastic, to get the right size, you might have to either sew / rivet a couple of pieces of flexible plastic together and then cut the long sides down.  Like with the vinyl, you can sew up a simple cotton casing for it so you don’t have to sew through the plastic and sewing into the cotton casing edges will keep it in place.
Keep in mind this area at the base of the bag has lots of thick layers.  Take it slowly and when finished change your needle as it will be quite blunt and you don’t want unsightly skipped stitches on your top stitching to come later.

Treating your raw edges
Another design element to make the Linnden Tote a simple and relatively quick sew, was incorporating raw edges to the Leather, Vinyl or Cork.  Again, it is not recommended that you replace the leather, vinyl or cork elements with a woven fabric, as it will not have the same finish or strength, and woven fabrics will fray without the right preparation and seam allowances, which have not been built into the pattern.

Pic 8 - Edge Coat and Applicators

Fiebing’s Edge Kote and various applicator tools

My next suggestion is completely optional, but if you are using vinyl or cork with it’s woven backing, this extra step will ensure the longevity of your bag and limit unsightly fraying on the raw edges –  particularly around your handles.  This step is to coat and seal your raw edges with a leather edge coat.

Leather edge coat can also be used on vinyl and cork.  You can purchase edge coat paint specifically for bag making and it comes in a variety of colours. The brand I like to use is Fiebings Edge Kote, but Tandy Leather have their own branded edge coat.

You will also need to apply the edge coat.  Common applicators are a ‘Daubber’ (which is like a fluffy cotton wool ball on a stick), a paddle or a rolling applicator.  I have used all three and find the simplest to use is the roller.  Get the edge coat and applicator if your budget allows, or read on for the last and simplest edge coat option

If you’re not going to be making many bags and don’t want to go to the expensive of purchasing edge coat and applicators, a simpler and less expensive option is Nail Poilish.  Yes – you read right – Nail Polish!  This will seal the edges beautifully, comes in a variety of colours and has an applicator brush built in!  Can’t get any simpler than that!  But just a little hint, don’t apply it too thick as it will crack with the natural movement of the handle.

Pic 9 - Nail Polish

Nail Polish is a great edge coat alternative and comes with built in applicator!

The use of rivets in bags is a great way to secure different bag pieces together where you either can’t get to the area with your sewing machine, or it’s too thick for your sewing machine to sew through.  With the Linnden Tote, there is only one area where you potentially need rivets, and that is the external box corners because of the thick layers.  With an industrial sewing machine, you should be able to get through these layers, but if you have a domestic machine there are some simple alternatives:

  • Take your bag to a shoe repairer (with your colour matched thread) and ask them to sew your corners.
  • Use Rivets

If you opt for rivets, as both sides of the external box corners on the Linnden are visible, you will need to use Double Cap (DC) Rivets.  The main thing you need to be concerned about when ordering and using rivets is getting the right size “Post” length.  Ideally once you have threaded the rivet post through the hole, you want the post to extend out the other side of the hole by 1-2mm.  This will allow the rivet “Cap” to loosely snap onto the post before you fix it in place.  To get the post length you need, hold your ruler up against the cross section of the area to be riveted, or even poke a skewer or toothpick through the hole and mark off where it comes through at the other side.  Make sure you have your 1-2mm allowance and that is a post length you need.

To punch your holes and to fix your rivets in place you will need special tools.  Unfortunately, there is no alternative for this, you need these tools. But as rivets are used so extensively in bag making, it’s an expense that is very justified.  Hand tools you need are a Hole Punch and a Rivet Anvil and Setter and most leather suppliers / stockist will have some for you.

Pic 5 - Hole Punch & Rivet Collage

Left:  Hole Punch tools (with a Hammer).  Right.  Rivet Anvil, setter and Nickel Double Cap Rivets

Glues and Tapes
Glues and tapes are used quite extensively in leather, vinyl and cork bag making and have been used in the making of the Linnden Tote.  As leather, vinyl and cork can’t be pinned and some areas are hard to get to with clips, glues and tapes hold things in place until they are stitched.

While there are glues specific to bag making, if you’re not planning on making lots of bags, a simple alterative is a Pritt / UDU glue stick like kids use in schools.  These are inexpensive and can be found at your newsagents or office stationery store.  One drawback of the Pritt / UDU glue sticks is they can leave gum build-up on your sewing machine needle which can cause missed stitches.  To combat this, I keep a scrap pieces of cloth next to my machine that I apply Tea Tree or Eucalyptus oil and clean my needle every few stitches.  This does make the process of sewing longer, but you get perfect stitching.

Pic 6 - Glue Collage

Left:  Glue alternative – the Pritt or UHU Glue Stick.  Right:  De-gum your machine needle with Tea Tree oil or something similar.

I also replace the use of glue with Double Sided Tape.  This is a fast and less messy alternative to glue, and I use it when I want to stick fabric to leather or when holding other areas in place like piping, flaps, handle connections.  You can use a double sided tape from a craft store or get heavy duty double sided tape from a hardware store.  Similar with the Pritt / UDU glue stick, watch your needle for sticky gum that will impact on your sewn stitches.

I also use Woven Bonding Tape when working with leather for the handles, straps and bag handle connectors as it stops the leather from stretching.  However, with our simple Linnden Tote using cork, you won’t need this.

Pic 7 - Double Sided Tape

I used Scrapbooking Double Sided Tape extensively

Upholstery Thread

Pic 10 - Thread Options

Bonded Nylon and Upholstery Threads for Bag Making

The last thing that is a must with bag making is using the right thread.  The thread that you typically use on clothing is not strong enough, you need something more heavy weight and durable. I use a bonded nylon thread as it is super strong but an upholstery thread from your local furnishing fabric store will work just as well.  You can get the threads in different thicknesses and thicker threads make for lovely top stitching, however to use the thicker thread you will also need a bigger needle.  If you can’t find a thickness your happy with, you can use two threads through the one needle and this is just as effective.

Make sure you test your tension before you commence sewing on your bag.  As you move to different parts of your bag where the thicknesses differ, you will have to re-adjust and test your tension again.

There is an endless list of suppliers out there and it would be impossible to list them all, especially on a global scale.  So, I have listed a few that I frequent over and over again because of their great product offerings, competitive pricing, and amazing customer service.  Please feel free to add in the comments of the blog post the suppliers you like to use and don’t mind sharing so that other sewers, in your part of the world, can reference them.

Supplier Table

So there you have it… with readily available alternatives even a non-bag maker can attempt, and have success, in making the Linnden Tote.  By keeping things simple is how the Linnden Tote really shines!  I would love to see what you make – if posting on social media, use the hashtag #mylinndentote so we can all find you and marvel at your work!  I’m also available in my Pattern group on Facebook “Annie Zorzo Pattern Group” should you have any questions that I can help you with.

Thanks for reading

Linnden Tote Stand Alone Pattern Cover You can purchase Annie’s pattern for the Linnden Tote as a single pattern HERE or purchase Issue 18 that contains this pattern HERE.

To pick up your copy of the Ava-Grace PDF pattern (on sale until this Friday 16thMarch at 20% off) visit Annie’s Etsy or Craftsy stores.

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