Last modified on October 22, 2008

Bags & pillows

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Square Bags
Rectangle Bags
Drawstring Bags
Tiny Drawstring Bags
Sewing Bags closed
Envelope bags
Zippered bags
Fold-flap bags
Tote bags
Variations on the tote-bag theme
         My drafting-board case
         Clothespin Bag
         Clothespin-bag variations
         A simple shoulder bag
         A shoulder-bag diary
Non-rectangular flat bags
Boxed pillows and bags
Complicated pillows and bags &&
Bolster Pillows and Round-bottomed Drawstring Bags &&
Machinery covers &&
Snap sacks &&
Wallets &&

Square bags

The simplest bag is a square of fabric -- sometimes, as in the waxed-cotton "tube and tool tote" sold by Rivendell, it isn't even hemmed.

Various ways of finishing squares and rectangles, with and without handles at the corners, are suggested in the discussion of Household Linens and other flat things. See also Edge Finishes.

When deciding how to finish the edges of a wrapping cloth, consider whether you need a finish at all. Some fabrics fray, some don't. Sometimes reinforcing its edges will make a cloth wear longer, and sometimes it won't. And sometimes, a hem would make the cloth less useful -- the tube and tool tote, for example, would be lumpy and difficult to fold neatly if it were hemmed, and the crease of a hem would collect dust and dirt.

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Rectangle Bags

Second simplest bag: fold a rectangle in half and sew two of the edges. For a pillowcase, you would hem the opening. For a storage bag you might hem, but would be more likely to put the selvage of the cloth at that edge, overcast it, or leave it raw. A storage bag can be closed by tying a clove hitch around its neck, or it can be sewn shut.

Many pillows are simple bags of this sort.

Instead of being closed, the mouth of the bag might be sewn to something else: welt pockets are simple bags sewn to oversized bound buttonholes.

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Drawstring Bags

When a bag is to be opened and closed repeatedly, you may want to add a drawstring. For a bag made of agricultural burlap, filled with onions, and hung from a nail in the cellar, it will suffice to hem the mouth and run a single string through the hem.

When a bag is opened and closed frequently, a header above the casing is convenient, as it gives you something to take hold of when opening the bag. See "Cased Elastic Edges" in Edge Finishes.

Most of the time, you will want two drawstrings, so that you can close the bag by pulling both at once, and then make sure it stays closed by tying the strings together.

Of course, the ends of a single string can be tied in a bow, just like a shoestring, but if you sew or tie the string into a loop, it becomes difficult to tie the bag closed with it, and if you don't make the string into a loop, it is likely to pull out of the casing. And if you put tags on the ends to keep them from pulling into the casing, they can get in your way -- and making tags is usually more trouble than making two drawstrings. Sometimes the middle of the string is sewn into the casing, but this is more common in drawstring garments than in bags -- particularly when the "string" really is a piece of string.

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Tiny Drawstring Bags

I wanted to make a quick-and-dirty coin purse to present a few chocolate coins. Make a teeny-tiny pillowcase, says I to me, run a ribbon or something through the hem, and bob's your uncle!

Which went very well: rip out a rectangle, press a quarter inch down on one edge, fold in half, sew around two sides, turn the hem in, return to the machine -- and discover that it's almost impossible to get the foot of the sewing machine inside that tiny, tiny mouth.

Alas, I left off writing this article until I'd forgotten precisely how I solved the problem, but it involved making the drawstring casing first. I could have turned in the edges all around (so as to present a folded edge to the opening of the drawstring casing) and edge-stitched along the fold from the right side.

For a presentation bag, another plan is to darn the drawstring in with a large needle instead of making a casing.

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Sewing Bags closed

If a bag is to be opened only once, it may be sewn closed after it is filled. You may simply stitch across, or fold the mouth of the bag and stitch through the fold. Bags made of tough paper have a strip of even tougher paper folded over the opening, and are stitched closed through it, usually with a chain stitch that can be unzipped when it is time to open the bag.

A pillow is slip-stitched closed after filling. If you don't need the entire opening to get the stuffing in, sew part of the seam before you turn the pillow right side out. Since the corners are the hardest parts to slip-stitch neatly, sew both ends of the opening, and leave the turning gap in the middle.

If the seam isn't going to show, it is easier and more secure to overcast instead of slip-stitching. For a quick-and-dirty closing, where a ridge won't matter, fold the seam allowances to the inside, then stitch by machine near the folded edges. Often, however, it is easier to close a pillow with hand stitching than to wrestle it through a sewing machine.

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Envelope bags

The envelope bag is based on the simple pillowcase-style bag we have been discussing: one side of the bag extends, and folds down to close it the way a flap closes an envelope. This style is mostly used for evening bags nowadays, but was once used to keep lingerie neat in one's bureau. I have an old handkerchief case which looks very like a #10 envelope.

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Zippered bags

Zippered bag: a sewn-closed bag with a zipper replacing part of a seam. A zipper may also be set into one of the panels of more-complicated bags. Pillow and cushion covers are often zippered bags -- sometimes this is so that they can be removed and washed, but sometimes covers that cannot be cleaned have zippers because it's cheaper, in a factory, to set in a zipper by machine than to slipstitch by hand.

It can be a good plan to make a zipper span the full length or full width of a panel, so that the ends of the zipper can be hidden in seams.

It's easier to get into a bag -- or to stuff a pillow form into a case -- if the zipper is a bit longer than the side that it's set into, so that it goes around both corners. Some bags have zippers that run around three sides, so that the bag can be opened flat.

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Fold-flap bags

"Fold flap" is not what this closing is called, but I haven't come across another name, and the opening is somewhat like "fold lock" sandwich bags. I have one whimsical citation for calling this opening a "housewife bit", but all the housewifes I've seen have been roll kits. On the third hand, the pocket at one end of the housewife shown at file:///C:/PAGESEW/HOUSEWF.HTM does look like one end of a fold-flap closing. (If this link doesn't work, go back to the contents page, find "sewing kits" among the HTML files, then click on "My Grandmother's Housewife" on the Sewing-Kits page.)

This closing is often used on pillow shams. (Why do we call them "shams" when there's a 100%-genuine pillow inside?)

A fold-flap bag is very simple to make. Take a piece of cloth as wide as is wanted, and longer than twice the length. Or as long as is wanted, and wider than twice the width. Finish the ends (or sides), then fold to the desired final size with right sides together, and the end that is to be inside on the outside. (This would be so much easier if I could draw! Try Gooogling "pillowcase"; some cultures make pillowcases this way.) It's probably a good idea to make the inside end longer than the outside end, so that you can turn the outside end inside out to gain access to the inside.

Sew along both raw edges and turn right-side out.

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Tote bags

Tote bag: an open-topped bag with two handles, often, but not always, squared at the bottom.

Let us analyze a tote bag that lies ready to hand: a canvas grocery bag sold by the supermarket. The makers appear to have begun with a strip of canvas forty inches wide, with one-inch hems on each side. From this they cut a piece eighteen and three-quarter inches long, plus two seam allowances. Then they folded it in half, right sides together with the hems matching, and serged off the seam allowances, making a pillowcase-style bag. Then they folded each bottom corner so that the seam ran exactly down the middle, and serged off the corner along a line at right angles to the first seam. These smaller seams are six and a half inches long. This could have been accomplished by stitching three and a quarter inches from the end of the seam: the altitude of an isosceles right triangle is equal to half of its base. Then they cut two pieces of one-inch webbing each fourteen inches long, and sewed one to each side of the bag, with the ends four inches apart.

Well, on closer inspection, I see that the handles were sewn before the hems: they are held on with one row of zig-zag stitching, and are also secured by the two rows of stitching that secure the hem. This attachment has held up quite well; some of my older bags are developing small holes, but none suffer from loose handles.

Nonetheless, I prefer, when I make tote bags, to run each handle clear to the bottom seam of the two-piece bag described below, or, when there is no bottom seam, to make both handles from one continuous wreath, which passes under the bottom of the bag like a sling. When a handle is appliquéd to the side of a bag like this, it is important that the stitching curve smoothly at the top, so that the weight in the bag has no place to start a tear.

Another way to make a tote bag is to cut two rectangles, one the desired length and width of the bottom of the bag, plus seam allowances, and one as wide as the desired height of the bag, plus hem and seam allowance, and as long as the desired circumference of the bag, plus seam allowance.

The length of the second rectangle can be got by adding up the sides of the bottom, without their seam allowances. When you are making only one, this pattern is easier to make than the one-piece pattern, and it allows you to use a heavier fabric, or two layers of fabric, in the bottom of the bag. It has the drawback that it is more difficult to fold the bag flat for shipping and storage.

The hem will be neater if you sew it after sewing the side seam. On the example at hand -- a denim knitting bag the size and shape of a grocery bag -- the handles were applied after sewing the hem and before sewing the bottom seam.

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Variations on the tote-bag theme

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My drafting-board case

This is a large envelope with handles.

I cut a piece of canvas a little wider than the drafting board and twice the height plus a flap, and hemmed both ends. I also cut a pocket the same width, but shorter than the height of the board, and hemmed one end.

I cut a two-inch strip of canvas on the lengthwise grain, sewed the ends together, folded the raw edges in to meet in the middle, and appliquéd twill tape over the raw edges in the parts of the wreath that would be the two handles. Then I appliquéd the strip to the large piece of canvas, sewed the bottom of the pocket a little above where the bottom of the case would be, folded the case to its final shape, and sewed up the sides.

Then I cut the corners of the flap into smooth curves and bound each side of the case with one piece of bias tape made from pocketing twill.

Leastways, that's what I deduce from examining the case. Reports of confusion welcome.

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Clothespin Bag: a tote bag with one long handle.

Here is one recipe for a bag that fits me:

If your duck, canvass, or upholstery fabric has a good selvage -- more and more rare, now that it's cheaper to blow threads through the warp from one side than to send a shuttle flying back and forth -- tear a strip from one edge, forty-seven inches long and up to six inches wide. This is forty-three inches for the strap, and two inches at each end for sewing it on. Fold this in thirds lengthwise, with the selvage on top and near one folded edge. Stitch a quarter inch from each fold. Set the strap aside.

Tear a rectangle twenty-five inches wide and sixteen and a quarter inches high. This is to make a bag twelve inches wide and thirteen and a half inches high when folded flat, allowing half an inch for seams and two and a quarter inches for the hem.

Sew the short ends together, press the seam open, and press a crease one quarter inch from one raw edge.

Trim the creased ends of the seam allowances: Remove a long, narrow triangle from each allowance, taking almost all of the allowance at the raw edge, tapering to nothing a little more than two inches from the crease. Pin a two-inch hem and stitch it. Fold the bag flat, wrong-side out, with the seam in the middle of one side. Stitch across the bottom.

Turn the bag right-side out, using a point turner in the corners, and fold it flat. Lay it on a table with the seam-side up, then lay out the strap with the seam-side up. Slip the ends of the strap inside the bag, one end snug against each fold, with the right side of the strap against the wrong side of the bag. Pin the bag to the ends of the straps. Then pick it up and adjust so that the ends of the strap come at the lower edge of the hem, without disturbing the horizontal position. Stitch the strap into place. I like to stitch around the rectangle where the strap and hem intersect, rounding the corners -- using particular care to round the upper corners, where strain is most likely to come.

Putting the strap slightly off-center this way causes the bag to open itself as it lies on your hip or hangs on a peg.

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Variations of the clothespin bag

The hem is made wide in order to stiffen the top of the bag. If your fabric is soft, make it even wider. You might also make the turn-under wide enough to make the hem three layers thick, or interface the hem.

Making the strap narrower will make it seem stiffer.

If the fabric is very stiff, cut the strap only double the finished width, fold the raw edges to meet in the middle, and cover them with twill tape. Don't carry the tape all the way to the end, but only far enough to be sure it's caught in the stitching.

To make a triple-thick strap from fabric without a decent selvage, use the recipe for stiff fabric in the preceding paragraph, selecting a stiff tape or light webbing nearly as wide as the strap.

To make three layers of one fabric, cut the strap three times the desired final width, fold almost one-half of the desired final width to the wrong side on each edge, then fold so that the folds meet in the middle. (This is easier if you fold the strap in half first, press in the crease, then press it open without steam, so that the crease-mark remains as a guideline.) Top-stitch near the folds, or zig-zag over both folds at once.

It may be more economical to begin with a rectangle thirteen inches wide and thirty-one and a half inches high. The seams will be at the sides, of course. Sew the ends of the strap near, but not right at, the seams. A nylon-mesh bag made on this plan, with a wide canvas binding instead of a hem, lets dust and lint fall through to keep your clothespins clean.

If you don't like the seams collecting lint, you can line the bag by sewing two bags mouth-to mouth with the strap between them. Top stitching around the top of the finished bag will hold the lining in position and re-inforce the attachment of the strap. Sew interfacing, if any, to the lining.

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A simple shoulder bag

Once you get the pattern tweaked to suit you, you can use the proportions of your clothespin bag to make other kinds of shoulder bag. It can be converted to a book bag or shopping bag, for example, simply by choosing a suitable fabric and making the strap attachments stronger.

You can close it with a zipper, flap, snaps, magnetic catch, or something I haven't thought of, and add various pockets to make a purse.

A haversack appears to be a clothespin bag closed with a flap like an envelope bag. ("Havers" is an old word for oats. A haversack was at first a bag in which one carried feed for one's horse, then the word was taken for the bag in which a soldier carried his rations and mess kit, and now it's a man's handbag. There are patterns for haversacks on several re-enactors' Web sites.)

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The entry below is a good illustration of the difference between a Web page and a blog. This diary would have made a splendid blog, but it's a horrible Web page. Luckily, you can jump to the next entry.

A shoulder-bag diary

Calloo, Callay, oh frabjous day! I've been invited to a three-day bus tour.

But every purse I have that's big enough to carry everything I want to keep with me on the bus is too big to carry with me at all times. I need a new purse!

I should be able to wear it as a shoulder bag when walking, and carry it as a handbag in the bus.

Since my clothespin bag fits me perfectly, that's an obvious place to start. Compare clothespin bag to a bag that's almost big enough: plenty big, particularly after I realize that when I'm wearing the same pants and carrying the same bag all the time, I don't need the bags I transfer from bag to bag. The vital stuff from my wallet can go into my passport pockets (see "broadfall pockets" in the file on pants) and anything in the pencil pouch that I don't leave in my suitcase can be dumped in loose, or stashed in pockets in the purse.

The strap-spacing on the clothespin bag doesn't want to be any wider; it curves around my hip the way it is. I'll make the bottom rectangle as wide as the bottom of the almost bag, and make its length just a tad shorter than the width of the clothespin bag. That will make the circumference a tad more than the clothespin bag, hence more volume.

Bottom needs to be stiff, at the least of double canvas. Various designs simplify into the idea of making one strip for the front, bottom, and back, with narrow rectangles inserted at the ends. Then pockets on the front and back can be made of one long strip that also stiffens the bottom. If I sew on the shoulder strap before attaching the pocket, the shoulder strap can be tucked down into the pocket when I'm carrying it as a handbag.

A seam-to-seam pocket can go on one end for my water bottle, maybe another on the other end for my sunscreen. Yes, a sunscreen pocket is a much better idea than making a bunch of little pockets for the stuff from the pencil pouch. Each little pocket would require Velcro, and I hate sewing Velcro. Not to mention that I have to get it done this week.

How to close the top? The magnetic snap on the almost bag about halves the usable volume, and can't be counted on to keep stuff in when the bag gets dropped and somebody trips over it. And, as I recall, the zipper in my book bag constricted the opening in a way that was a nuisance when I was wearing it out as a clothespin bag. (Various alternative ways to install a zipper considered and rejected.)

Sunday, 13 July 2008: search closets and piles, finally find black linen duck in first closet searched.

Open Rough Sewing file to get measurements of clothespin bag, get distracted doing maintenance on my Web site.

Monday, 14 July 2008: check twill tape: all the black tape is too narrow to make straps; will be quicker to use strips of fabric than to go to store and buy some.

Start typing this diary in intervals of week's laundry. Also baking bread. I have to be done and packed by the 22nd.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008: found black nylon webbing in the zipper box yesterday. Just barely wide enough, but there's plenty to make a strap and two handles. No black zipper in the box, but there's a gray one long enough to go around three sides, and it has metal teeth. I think I can add a lip around the lid to hide it.

Plan is shaping up: One long piece for front, back, bottom, and lid. Another long piece, hemmed on both ends, for front pocket, bottom-stiffener, and strap pocket. Consider and reject putting a piece of that too-stiff-to-use-for-anything nylon windowscreen mesh between the bottom and the bottom stiffener.

Two rectangles for the ends, with broadcloth pockets basted to them. Pockets to have pleats at bottom, elastic in the hems, and be caught in seams on three sides. Seams to be turned to outside and bound.

I'm none too sure how I'll go about attaching the zipper to the lid; I may end up sewing it by hand, so I'd better get moving. Luckily, my dental appointment is in the afternoon, so I have the whole morning. (Never mind that it's already 10:13, and I have to lie down for an hour at 12:00.)

Wednesday 16 July 2008: I spent the aforementioned whole morning drawing a thread ten inches from the selvage of the duck, which is too strong to tear. Then I realized that making the purse the same width as the almost purse was daft. And a nine by thirteen purse would look funny.

Luckily, I originally bought this fabric to make a pair of cycling knickers, but it turned out to be too heavy. (The fabric I did use is too light. I suppose I'll have to settle for gray instead of black for the next pair.) So there was plenty of duck to start over.

Turns out that if you make your snip an inch and a half long -- easy to follow a thread if I put on my +3.5 reading glasses -- the duck will tear. Couldn't get quite to the end, but pulling on one of the loosened warp threads tightened it through the remaining inch and a half, marking the place to cut with scissors.

Now to divide the 12.5" strip into main body and pockets. How much to allow for the flap on top? But the more I think about it, the less feasible, and the less desirable, a zipper around three sides of a flap seems. And the zipper might not be quite long enough to do that anyway. But it is long enough to go down into each side three or four inches if I run it through the middle of the top. I'll piece a top-and-sides strip, and sew it to the front-back-and-bottom strip after the manner of a baseball. Means I'm going to have to get the length of the strip just right.

Next step: tear two 3.5" strips as long as the zipper.

Thursday, 17 July 2008: It seems that the pocket piece is going to be longer than the front-back-bottom piece. I conceived the idea of sewing the handbag handles to the pockets, so as to use the hem for reinforcements, and that means that I'm going to need nice wide hems.

I've put paid to the daft idea of putting the seams on the outside and binding them. While studying the linen with an eye to cutting the boxing strip (baseball strip?), I noticed the neat zig-zag overcasting on a scrap from my wallet. Well, duh, overcast the edges and turn quarter-inch seams to the inside. Won't be as neat as these edges that I overcast before cutting, of course, but it will be neat enough.

Almost time to knock off and cook supper: All right! It looks like a bag now, and I can try it on and see how it would be to carry it.

The torn edge wouldn't go well with zig-zag, so I threaded up the treadle and ran a row of tiny straight stitches near the fringe. Man, when you want to sew really fast, you can make that needle blur. Imagine the effect on people who had been sewing by hand all their lives --- no wonder the Victorian era broke out in frills and furbelows.

Getting ready to put the hem tape on the pockets, I had another "well, duh!" moment and sewed the handles on first, so that the tape could cover the raw edges of the webbing.

Plenty of webbing, I said, but the longer piece wasn't enough to run the full depth of the bag twice and still leave forty-three inches for a shoulder strap, so I had to give up having the end caught in the pocket stitching.

There's a good six inches of each end appliquéd to the bag, but if I carry books, I may wish I'd put a patch on the inside.

But if the strap comes off, I doubt that it will be the canvas that fails. I was able to break a double thread with my thumbnail the first time I forgot to carry my scissors to the sewing machine. I can't do that with a single strand of cotton 100/6, so I'm not impressed with polyester for strength. And yes, this is Gütermann, not some bargain brand. You just can't make a strong thread out of chopped filaments.

I ended the day's work by laying the pockets on the front/back and stitching across two and a half inches on each side of the center to define the bottom, and the width of my yardstick above that to make the pockets. I deemed an inch far enough, but I didn't have an inch-wide ruler handy when I drew the lines with my "Nonce" pencil. (What a lovely brand name for a removable marker!)

Then I stitched close to each edge to keep the two pieces in register.

Just the zipper and end pieces to go, but I'm going to read Usenet now. (Somewhere during the writing of the above account, I did knock off for supper and the evening walk.) I intend to fudge on getting the length of my partial boxing strip just so by sewing the end pieces in first, then sewing the zipper strip over them, which will put it under them when the bag is turned right side out. Topstitching them together won't be as neat as sewing them together before sewing them to the bag, but in black on black, who's going to notice?

Friday, 18 July 2008: Cool: when coming back into the sewing room to fetch a ruler, I discovered that a black zipper just a tad longer than the gray one had fallen out of the zipper box. (I've moved the zippers into a shoe box to prevent further incidents of this nature.) It's a new zipper, where the gray one was salvaged from a 1970's dress. (There was a bit of polyester doubleknit still stuck to it.) It has coil teeth, but you can't have everything, and there won't be much stress on it.

I'm going to install the end pieces before piecing the zipper strip; that way I can try it against the actual project to make sure it's the right length before I cut.

I've chosen cotton broadcloth for the bottle pockets. It had a good selvage, so I tore one pocket from each end of the strip I tore across, so that I can use the selvage to save a turn-under in making the elastic casing. I folded the casing allowance under and measured the pockets over the actual bottle, from the place where the top should be to the opposite side of the bottom. I'm going to have to put pleats in both the bottom and the sides of the pocket . I checked my Trafalger Tours carry-on, and that bottle pocket is gathered at the corners. That works better in soft net than in broadcloth, and there isn't nearly as much ease as I've allowed: the net stretches.

The remnant of black quarter-inch of elastic in my elastic box is just enough for the pockets. Better put "black elastic" on my shopping list.

I've had lunch, and now it's time for my nap. I need to walk to Kroger in the evening -- gotta keep in shape for the tour -- so I hope I wake up in time to baste the pockets on before supper.

Saturday, 19 July 2008: How much force does it take to tear that canvas? To make the zipper piece, I tore a two-inch strip off the scrap of the six-inch strip that I'd torn off to make the end pieces. When I sprayed the pieces to restore the torn edges, the two-inch strip crawled as it returned to its original size. It was also torn half across in one place.

Luckily, it was the four-inch strip that I wanted to piece with the zipper to make a six-inch strip.

Backing up to yesterday: I did wake up in time to make pockets, baste them to the end pieces, and install one on the bag. After supper and a bike trip -- turned out that we needed more stuff than I could carry on foot, but I did get a short walk in at sunset -- I installed the other end piece, and now it doesn't just look like a bag, it is a bag. I love these landmarks!

The pockets are patch pockets, cut longer and wider than their places on the end pieces by amounts determined by draping fabric over a water bottle, with elastic in the hems to keep the tops close to the bag when no bottle is in them. The elastic was fairly easy to insert: because the hem is wide and quarter-inch elastic is stiff, I didn't even need a bodkin. I stitched across the ends of the hems to keep the elastic in place during subsequent operations.

At the bottoms, I stuck pins one inch from the raw edges and eyeballed tiny pleats starting from each pin, fairly symmetrical. The first pleat in each set folded over the pin. The pockets ended up fairly poofy at the bottoms, but not so dorky-looking as I'd feared they might be.

Then I sewed each pocket to its end piece, trying to take a narrower seam allowance than would be used to sew the end piece into the bag.

20 July 2008: Then I ran out of writing time. Had a bunch of tips & warnings that I've now forgotten, too.

I let the bag take a short cut across the corners when pinning the pockets in, so that it would be easier to stitch. This made the pocket occupy a tad less bag than I'd allowed for on the assumption of square corners. On the other hand, the zipper strip also took a shortcut across the corners of the bag top, which made the calculations a tad off in the other direction.

When I got back from shopping Saturday, I pinned the strip I'd torn to the bag to make sure it was long enough, then drew a line an inch from the edge, cut it in half, machine-basted the halves together along the line, pressed well, and left it to cool and dry.

Today I took the basting out and sewed each half of the zipper to one of the strips, with its teeth just a hair's width inside the pressed-in fold. Instead of a zipper foot, I used a straight-stitch foot guided along the edge of the zipper tape. As I had hoped, this made a nice uniform flap on each side of the zipper, and the flaps met tightly in the middle. When I try that trick of sewing a zipper under a basted-together seam, it always separates just enough to let the zipper teeth peek through.

Since I dislike zippers in my clothing, I'm not up on the latest in zippers. I thought it peculiar that the zipper coils on this one are turned to the right side, as defined by the zipper pull, and quite hidden under the tape on the back. But then I realized that it would be much more comfortable in a garment that way, for plackets that don't have flies.

One more pin-to-make-sure-it-fits before stitching again to secure the edge of the zipper tape, and again to secure the edge of the seam allowance.

Then I very carefully stitched six inches of twill tape to each end of the zipper strip to conceal the raw edges after the thing was assembled, turning the wheel by hand while I crossed the zipper. And by finger when approaching and leaving the critical area: treadles have a very useful intermediate gear; if you put a finger in the spokes, you can turn the handwheel quite fast, yet with almost as much control as when pushing the rim to make half a stitch at a push.

And it looked very neat, with the tape providing finished ends to my beautiful slot seam. Now to pin it in for real, now to pin it, now . . . what's going on here? This does not compute.

Duh! If you want to cover the raw edges of the zipper strip and the end strips after putting the zipper strip under the end strips, the hem tape has to go on the wrong side!

Even though it had been stitched twice, once to secure the edge of the tape and once to secure the raw edge being covered, the tape was surprisingly easy to get off and sew back on the other side. The guidelines I'd drawn on the tapes were almost rubbed off, but only almost.

Now the zipper strip went in without protest, so I pinned the overlapped ends in place, popped the bag into my suitcase for safekeeping, unthreaded and closed the treadle, and planned to start the hand stitching after reading Usenet, but I wrote this account instead. Should be plenty of time between loads of wash tomorrow.

Monday 21 July 2008: And the bag is finished before naptime, and two loads of wash hung up and another put in to soak. (And I'm nearly caught up to the current strip reading Buck Godot, Zap Gun for Hire.)

I back-stitched just below the lines of permanent basting that kept the edge of the end pieces folded through all operations. This left a mock tuck, which I thought neatened the ends of the zipper. I also hemmed down the free edge of the hem tape.

One end was hard to sew because it was crooked. The moral to this story is: when attaching the second side of a zipper strip, pin from both ends toward the middle. The distance from the ends to the corners isn't enough to accumulate significant amounts of unintended ease, and that leaves the full width of the top to Make it Fit.

Pity I didn't notice that it was crooked before starting the hand sewing -- it pinned just fine last night. But I'm not going to pick it out and do it over.

The bag is in the suitcase, this tale is done, and it's time for my nap. Were I Elizabeth Zimmermann, I would now write a pithy account that would allow you to make an exact duplicate of my bag, but I didn't take enough notes -- and there isn't much point to making your own bag if you end up with somebody else's bag.

5 August 2008: Took me long enough to recover from the trip that I may not remember enough to expand my notes.

I should have stuck with the gray zipper. The black one was too long, and it works hard. It works hard in exactly the way that you want it to work hard in an apparel zipper, but it was a pain in a purse.

Sometimes experience can work against you. If I were a beginner, I'd have made the bottle pockets wider, but never once have thought about making them longer. But, duh, you don't mind if a pocket sags at the top -- and the weight of a bottle -- or even a tube of sunscreen -- makes them sag well below the bottom of the purse. Before the next trip, I'll have to pick out the bottom part of the seam that holds the end peices in, and cut the bottom off the pockets.

Making two bottle pockets was a good idea; the second one served nicely for sunscreen etc.

The purse hung at my side nicely, just as designed -- but most of the time I wore it, I was pushing through a narrow aisle in the bus and wanted it in front or behind; in either place, it hung much too low. I learned by accident that putting the shoulder strap through the handles shortened it significantly -- though not as short as I like a shoulder strap to be when I'm wearing a bag on my back. (Get the strap short enough, and it acts just like a knapsack.)

I learned about putting the strap through the handles because stuffing the strap into the pocket when it wasn't in use proved to be a bad idea -- but putting it through the handles so that it passed over the top of the bag and hung down on the other side worked nicely.

The shoulder strap almost reaches my waist in front when I put the bag on my back. Had I had a belt to attach the strap to, I could have worn the purse as a backpack -- provided that there wasn't much weight in it.

The handles didn't need to be tucked out of the way when not in use.

I forgot to sew a loop inside to hang my key ring from, but (long story deleted) every key ring I have has a safety pin threaded on it, and pinning the ring to one of the re-inforced areas proved to be a better idea anyway -- one doesn't have to decide in advance how many items are going to be tethered.

I'd left my keys behind, in case of a need to move my car (said keys pinned to a wallet I'd also left behind, to be sure I didn't drive off without it!), so all that was on the key ring in my new purse was a pair of scissors, a pen knife, nail clippers, and a tape measure.

The outside pocket gaped very annoyingly when I wore the purse on my hip. Wearing the purse backward, with that pocket toward my body, worked -- the pocket on the strap side didn't gape -- but had its own annoyances.

The problem disappeared on the day of the boat ride, when I stuffed a coat into my purse in case it was cold on the water. Turned out that we went up the river instead of out on the lake, so the coat stayed in the purse, stiffening the pocket.

And not until typing this up did I think of threading the strap through the handle sewn to that pocket. Duh! Just tried it, works great. It also squashes the top of the bag together, but if there is something in that part of the bag, no problem with pocket gaping.

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Non-rectangular flat bags

If your fabric isn't big enough to cut a rectangle bag in one piece, you might cut two identical rectangles and sew around three sides. Once you start working in this fashion, you see that the two pieces don't have to be rectangles. You could put two pentagons together and sew around four sides, or you could cut two bunny-rabbit shapes and leave a small gap along his back.

Knife-edge sofa pillows, some pincushions, and simple stuffed toys are made in this fashion.

Pockets, particularly side-seam pockets, are also sometimes made by sewing two identical shapes together. Or it may be one shape of outer fabric and one shape of lining, with the outer fabric extending in a flap along the opening -- however complicated the pocket may be, the chances are that you can see either this technique or the patch pocket at the root of it.

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Boxed pillows and bags

Instead of sewing the two shapes directly to each other, you could cut a strip of fabric equal in length to the circumference of the pieces, sew the ends of the strip together, and sew it to each of the pieces. When pillows are made in this manner, the strip is called a "boxing strip" and the pillows are "boxed pillows".

The denim knitting bag I described above can be thought of as a boxed bag with a very wide boxing strip, and one of the two rectangles left off.

Once I made a bag for my school books by closing the top of my clothespin bag pattern with a rectangle pieced from a zipper and two strips of fabric. If I also put a rectangle at the bottom of the bag (it's long since worn out and gone), it was a boxed bag with a very narrow rectangle for the top and bottom, and a very wide boxing strip.

My Eagle Creek purse is essentially two boxed bags that share a rectangle -- one rectangle forms the front of the bag, one forms the back, and the shared rectangle is the partition between the two compartments of the bag.

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Complicated pillows and bags

If you wanted to make a cube, you could cut two squares and a boxing strip as wide as the squares and four times as long. Or you could cut six squares and sew them together.

All the platonic solids can be made the same way: four triangles make a tetrahedron, eight triangles make an octahedron, twelve pentagons make a dodecahedron, and twenty triangles make an icosahedron.

Then there's the Archimedean solids: twelve pentagons and twenty triangles to make an iscosidodecahedron, etc. And the Catalan solids, where the corners are regular and the faces aren't, but I never much liked the looks of those.

Of course, most of these shapes are going to come out as patchwork balls, unless you are stuffing them with molded pillow forms, or slip-stitching fabric-covered cardboard (or plastic canvas) shapes together.

But whether you are making bags, cushions, or stuffed toys, you can make any shape that you can imagine by sewing suitable shapes together. Darts, easing, and gathers -- just as in dressmaking -- also help to shape things. Indeed, when making dolls, all the parts can be seen as the corresponding garment pieces: arms are sleeves, legs are pants, etc.

In "soft sculpture", stitches taken through the figure help in shaping. A doll's hand, for example, is often two mitten shapes sewn together, with stitching to define the fingers and hold the hand flat. My needle-cushion is quilted to keep it from turning into a pin ball.

In bags, partitions can serve the same purpose: when I stuff my Eagle Creek handbag, it bulges, but the partition between the two compartments constrains it to retain its box-like shape.

Stiffeners also serve. The crocheted drawstring purses of my youth had cardboard circles inside to keep the bottom flat; I later achieved a similar effect by crocheting the bottom of a bag to the size and shape of my checkbook. On another occasion, I made a cylindrical denim bag by designing it to fit over a deep bowl cut from the bottom of a bleach jug. "Softside" suitcases often have sheets of closed-cell foam in pockets to keep them from being too soft sided.

If there is a great deal of strain on a stiffener, it's a good idea to make it fairly easy to remove a broken stiffener and replace it with a new one. Or, at least, use something strong that can bounce back from minor bending. Avoid storing a bag with a bendable stiffener bent, as it is likely to set in the bent shape.

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Bolster Pillows and Round-bottomed Drawstring Bags

The simplest way to cover a bolster is to make a tube with a drawstring in each end, slip in the pillow form, tie the drawstrings. Depending on the use of the bolster, you tie ornamental bows in the strings, or knot them firmly, cut them short, and tuck the ends inside the pillow.

Measure the pillow and cut or tear a rectangle. One side will be the circumference of the pillow form, plus seam allowance, minus ease. (You usually want to squish the pillow form a bit, so as to have a taut, smooth cover.)

The other side of the rectangle will be the length of the pillow, plus the diameter, plus casing allowance, minus ease.

It usually makes the work easier to press the casings in before sewing the seam, but if you have a sleeve board, it isn't all that difficult to measure your hems after sewing the rectangle into a tube.

Ordinarily, there is no header on the drawstring casing, but if the fabric is so stiff you can't close the hole, setting the drawstring back a little from the edge might help. If you want a party-cracker effect, you can applique a tape a little way from the hemmed edge to make the casing; either outside to provide a decoration tied with a bow, or hidden inside.

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