This bag making guide was written by Christine Down.
Here are the other parts of this series:
Is there anything more satisfying than making a handbag? It is such a rewarding and pleasing thing to do. Not only can you undertake a project that uses beautiful fabric, and fittings, but when finished you can put your things in it and carry them around. You can make a bag that exactly matches your particular requirements, like lots of pockets, and matches your outfit at the same time.
In this guide I’m going to talk about what you need for bagmaking: tools, equipment, techniques and supplies. In part one we’ll look at tools and equipment. Later parts will look at fabric, interfacing, patterns, techniques, supplies and completing your projects. Everything I suggest or recommend is because I use them and find them useful, but of course you are not obliged to use the same brands or types of tools to me.
Basic Tools and Equipment for bag making
Any basic machine is suitable for bag making. Even an old fashioned straight sewer is fine. It should have a motor strong enough to get through all those layers and it should also be able to take a variety of feet.
The more long arm space you have the easier it is to maneuver bulky bags, but most bags can be compressed to fit under the needle as you sew.
As well as the standard feet you will need a zip foot and Teflon foot (for oilcloth). Although not essential, it is also useful to have a walking foot. This will help when sewing a number of layers together without the layers shifting.
I use a pair of large, sharp dressmaking scissors. They have comfortable handles which makes cutting heavy fabric easier. I also have a pair of small scissors with a sharp point for clipping and trimming. They are also useful to push out points and getting into difficult small areas. Always keep your sewing scissors just for sewing! Cutting paper, plastic and other things blunts scissors and you need to keep your clean and sharp.
Other Cutting Tools
A rotary cutter is a brilliant tool to have. It speeds up cutting out and is very accurate. It needs to be used on a self-heal mat with grid lines and a plastic cutting ruler. A quick-unpick or seam ripper is another great tool to have on hand. Great for buttonholes, rectifying mistakes and making holes for zips and other fittings.
There are a number of fabric markers on the market, but the one I use the most isn’t actually a fabric marker at all. It is a fine roller ball pen called Frixion by Pilot. It comes in a rainbow of colours and makes a fine line on fabric that looks like a biro mark. However, when ironed the ink disappears altogether. I’ve never had a problem with these, but I would advise you to test the pen on a scrap of the fabric and then iron it off before marking on the final project.
My tape measure is 300cm/120 inches long with both Imperial and metric measurements on it. It also has a press return which is very handy.
Try to obtain good quality polyester thread like Gutermann All Purpose which is what I use. All cotton thread is prone to “shred” and cheap thread tends to break. Gutermann polyester is colourfast and reliable. Always wind a new full bobbin at the start of a project and use the same thread for top and bottom.
Pins and Clips
You need some robust sewing pins as those very fine pins, sometimes used for quilting, won’t stand up to the layers. You also need some little clips like small bulldog clips or Clover Wonderclips.
I routinely use a size 14/90. For bags with lots of interfacing or where I am using furnishing weight fabric I use a Jeans needle. These have a sharp point and a rigid shank. Just as important is to change your needle regularly. I put in a new needle for each project.
For jobs that need a strong fabric glue, like gluing bag bodies into frames, I use Gutermann HT2 Creativ. This is a clear contact glue that is really up to the job. For attaching fabric to interfacing or fabric to fabric try 505 spray fabric glue. This is repositionable and doesn’t stain the fabric.
Here’s a piece of equipment you won’t see many recommend, but I swear by it! To use it just put a little bit of the oil onto some white cotton fabric. Then wipe away any sticky glue residue on your iron, metal frame, cutting mat etc. It’s great when you get a bit enthusiastic with the 505, or when your frame gets too much glue on it. It shouldn’t mark your fabric but always test on a scrap and allow to dry completely before trying it on your project!
Your general iron will be fine for flat ironing and attaching iron-on interfacing, but for the inside of a finished bag or for hard to get to parts of a bag you really need a craft iron or a tiny iron.
Other handy tools include a hammer, some screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, grommet and snap applicators, and a pointy tool like a small metal grouting tool. I got this set at Ikea and it’s great. It has a variety of screwdriver heads and a plastic cap that fits over the hammer head (It’s called Fixa)
Of course you will probably want to add other things to this list, but these items will see you well on your way to making your own bags.
For our other bag making guides visit our techniques section and click the bag making tag.