I know this blog hasn’t been updated in over a month. That’s what happens when real-life affairs take precedence over online activities. From family events, looking for work and writing other stuff, I haven’t had much time to write much for here.
Well today I do.
I don’t drive. Never have, never will, can’t do it. Eyesight won’t allow it. Joy of joys. This greatly limits my mobility obviously, and I gotta rely on lifts from friends, public transport of questionable reliability, and a good pair of shoes. It also means I need a good bag. One that’s strong and which lasts. I don’t have the luxury of hauling half my house with me, dumping half of it in the car, taking what I choose, and then walking off somewhere and coming back later to get something else if I forgot. When I go out, I have to take everything I need with me, in one bag. This means that the bag has to be a decent size, good quality, and strong!
…What a pity that most of them aren’t.
In five years, I’ve had three bags, and they’ve all proved unsatisfactory in one way or another. They rip, they tear, they wear out, they fall apart…
I was so fed up with it that I decided to try and make my own bag. I researched fabrics and looked up designs online to try and figure out what my eventual bag would look like. I found a fabric warehouse in town which sells huge rolls of fabric to the public. They’re surplus from clothing-factories and they sell it off at so many dollars a square meter.
I showed up and got myself a healthy supply of denim fabric. I picked denim because I wanted a bag that was – first – blue, and – second – strong! Leather dries and cracks and flakes. And cotton just rips apart. I would’ve used canvas but I couldn’t find any, so I decided that denim would do as a suitable substitute.
I’ve never been much of a sewer, but I learned the basics from my grandmother – how to fold raw edges, how to sew seams, how to cut buttonholes and sew them by hand. How to measure, how to cut, how to make seam-allowances, and so-forth. I only do this stuff occasionally, so I’m still learning, but I felt that I had enough skill to try and make something which I would be comfortable using in public and carrying around. And so, I set to work.
Measurements and Calcuations
Before I did any cutting, the first thing I did was sketch what the bag would look like. I drew up a rough diagram and penciled in measurements on how wide, long, deep and high I wanted it, how many pockets, what the over-flap would look like, and so-forth. Now that I had the chance to make my own bag, I wanted to try and do it as best as I could. It wouldn’t look THAT professional, but still, I had a plan.
If you ever make a bag for yourself, like I did, one important thing to keep in mind with measurements is to decide what you’ll be putting in the bag, and to have those items near you when you’re doing your measurements. Measure the items you intend to put in the bag (laptop, iPad, umbrella, dead body, whatever…) and then proportion the bag accordingly so that whatever you put in will be housed securely and neatly. My big issue with a lot of my older bags was that they weren’t big enough to hold my bulkier items without compromising by chucking out other things which I might’ve needed. I was determined to make it and shape it to fit in everything I wanted.
Cutting the Fabric
To cut the fabric, I used my grandmother’s 8in. WISS tailor’s shears from the 50s. To get accurate measurements, I used one of those big, old-fashioned folding rulers made of wood, which have the measurements in inches. A modern plastic ruler warps and bends too much to be reliable when you’re cutting massive amounts of fabric. And this old wooden ruler extends to three feet long! More than enough for what I needed!
To try and minimise screw-ups, I measured how big I wanted the bag to be, then measured again, adding on extra inches, for seam-allowances, folding raw edges and for errors in my own calculations. To give the bag as much strength as possible, I used as few pieces of fabric as I could, and which pieces I did use, I tried to make them as big as possible.
The bag has eight pieces of fabric.
The first, huge piece was about a foot and a half wide, by three feet long. This gave me enough space to fold over the edges half an inch or so, to make space for mistakes, if there were any. The body of the bag is deliberately made of one big piece of fabric. The fewer seams there are, the fewer things there are to rip and tear, and the longer it’ll last.
Next came two side-panels for the end-walls of the bag. Then came pockets.
The bag has two pockets at the front, one big one at the back, two interior pockets, and one side-pocket for pens. I also cut extra red velvet fabric to act as a partial liner inside the bag, and some of the pockets. I didn’t have enough velvet to line the entire bag, so I just did the key areas. On top of that, I cut extra fabric for stuff like buttonholes, straps and so-forth.
Assembling the Bag
To put the bag together, I used my antique Singer:
Friends have asked me questions about this machine for years.
“How do you use it?”
“Does it work?”
“How do you control it with only one hand?”
“Does it sew through thick fabrics?”
“Aren’t you scared about breaking it?”
The answers are:
“Yes” (although, not leather).
“No. It lasted this long, it’ll last a hell of a lot longer!”
I prefer using this machine to a modern one for all manner of reasons. It’s easier to set up, it’s much easier to operate, it’s HIGHLY portable and it’s forgiving of your mistakes!
The great thing about a manual sewing machine is that you can set it up literally ANYWHERE, regardless of light, space, and of course, whether or not there’s a power-outlet nearby! You just plonk it on the table, open it up, thread it, and sew!
The other great thing is that, since it IS a manual machine, you, yourself, decide how fast, or how slow, this machine is going to run. Not some electric motor with a gummy power-pedal which is as fidgety as a spooked stallion. This machine can go as slow and as fast as you want. Give it enough speed and a long-enough run-up, and it’ll punch through four, six, even eight layers of denim with no problems at all!
Because I can directly control the machine, I can decide precisely how to use it. I can run it at a snail’s pace if I’m doing something delicate, or as fast as I can turn the handle, to finish a seam. For someone with poor eyesight, it’s good to know that I can operate it slowly and precisely, when I need to get close and personal to my work and make sure that everything is lined up properly, instead of sewing my hands together!
Sewing the Components
Using my Singer, I sewed all the seams and lining and pockets, and then pieced everything together.
It’s easier to work with pieces and piece pieces to pieces and then put it together. That is, it’s easier to do that, than build the bag up, and THEN try and tack extras onto it like pockets and loops. It’s better to build up each component with all its necessities, before building the bag itself. That way there’s nothing leftover at the end to vex you! Some elements were easier to do than others, but I’m glad to say that about 90% of the sewing for this bag was done on my old Singer. The only hand-sewing I did was to sew on the buttons for closure, and to cut and sew the buttonholes by hand (I didn’t trust the sewing machine to stitch in the buttonholes reliably with its buttonholer-attachment, which has failed before now).
There was a time where I had considered sewing in a zipper or two on the bag, but in the end I decided to leave that to another project. I’d rather stick with what I knew for this project, and try that another time. I was much more comfortable with buttons and buttonholes, and I didn’t want the bag to be too ambitious, and screw it up at the last minute! That said, the button-closures I did make have worked very well!
I made the buttonholes vertical instead of horizontal. This would, I hoped, prevent the fabric from tearing from constant opening and closing. At the front of the bag, I made denim tags and sewed rope loops into them, to act as buttonholes, as I reckoned these would last longer than ordinary buttonholes, since they would be opened and closed more often than others. I used large, brass buttons instead of plastic ones. Plastic cracks and breaks and brass is stronger. To sew them in place, I used string instead of thread, so that they wouldn’t snap or wear out easily.
Attaching the hardware came next. To do that, I used more spare denim to cut tabs for holding down the D-rings for the shoulder-strap. I made everything here double-thickness and sewed everything back and forth, over and over at least two or three times on each side, since they would be taking the entire weight of the bag on just two points. I wanted to make sure that everything was secure.
When sewing, I used navy blue thread. I wanted a thread that matched the colour of the denim as near as possible. Admittedly, this was to camouflage my own deficiencies in sewing. If I was better Might’ve used white thread, but I didn’t want any mistakes or obvious screw-ups to stand out. And at any rate, I doubt anybody would be looking closely enough to really care. In the end, this was the result:
The Finished Bag:
Considering that this is my first real attempt at something like this, I’m pretty pleased at how it turned out, although the proof of quality will be in how long it lasts! We’ll see!