It always tickles me a bit to check on the blog after a period of inactivity only to see it steadily getting hits. Where do they come from?, I wonder. Is it the same people checking to see if I’ve updated, or are they new people who stumbled across the blog by chance?

Despite appearances, I have been sewing, though not necessarily the things I should be sewing. I’m a little conflicted posting some of it. It feels like this has primarily been my costuming blog and to post anything that doesn’t qualify as a costume is cheating somehow. Yet I’m starting to branch out more in what I sew. I’m going to be sewing more everyday clothes as time goes on and don’t really feel like having to start a new blog to document it all. What do you think?

To give you a taste of what falls under the category of “not costumes”, here’s what I’ve been working on lately.

My adorable little sister Sophie is turning 1 this year. I can comfortably say she is adorable because I’m practically an objective observer – I see her only in pictures as she grows since she lives on the other side of the world, so I’ve had the chance to see her grow from generic baby to pretty damn cute. And while some, um, ‘less fortunate’ babies do in fact grow up to be beautiful people (beauty, eye of beholder, blah blah), some babies just don’t (you can thank The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tale for that life lesson). No, I don’t have biological children, and no, I don’t want them either because what kind of parent would I be if I actually thought my child was unattractive despite no other flaws?

Don’t answer that.

Anyway.

I decided that in addition to the clothes I bought for her and the children’s books in French (The Little Prince, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Goodnight Moon), I wanted to make her something as well. I went to Joann’s and wandered into their bundled quarters section, thinking maybe I’d make her something quilted or patchworked. I’m not really big on the ‘baby’ colors or themes and I wanted this to be something she might actually be able to use once the world had decided she’d outgrown fabric with baby ducks and rattles on them.

I went with this because it was still cute and might still be a in a few years; plus, there were three bundles for sale and it gave me more options.

I decided to make something less geared towards a baby that she would outgrow in another year or so and instead try something that might be used even once she was grown. Since I already had the pattern and had plans to make a few of them for other people, I dug out my copy of Amy Butler’s Weekender Bag and started crunching fabric numbers. I figured her mother could use it as a baby bag now and a personal bag later. Hurray versatility!

The bag is made of two fabrics – a main fabric for the outside of the bag and a second fabric for the lining, piping, and handles – and a decent amount of it. Rather than go out and buy even more fabric, I decided to try piecing the bag together with the quarters I already had. The largest pattern piece (the main outside panel) fit comfortable on one of the quarters and pattern pieces that were too long (like the handles or the top panels) could be pieced together. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it had the potential to be pretty cute.

I spent the first few days of the project scouring the internet for every blog and craft post made by someone else who had tackled the project. I’d seen it on Craftster in the past and by all accounts was expecting a difficult, though rewarding, challenge. Armed with other peoples’ experiences, complaints, and suggestions, I felt pretty confident that I could make the bag with little difficulty and a lot of patience.

I cut out my pattern pieces, resigned myself to a long night of cutting fabric, and started playing with what I had to see which fabric should make up the pockets, linings, handles, and piping. As I’m now over half way done and can step back and see the (almost) finished product, I think I made the right choices.

Yet even after all that reading and preparing, I’ve definitely learned a few things of my own while making this bag, and plan on sharing them as I go (I’ll bold and highlight them in red to make it easier to scroll through and grab the important bits).

First and foremost, buy extra fusible interfacing. You will inevitably cut something backwards or not buy enough, and it’s not like you can’t use it for other projects. I wound up having to go out and buy an extra yard because I didn’t have enough for the top panels and the instructions don’t give a cutting layout.

If you want to make your bag out of quarter bundles, you’ll need 3 of them. If you’re concerned about matching or messing up, buy a 4th.

And while you’re out shopping, buy/make extra piping/cording. The piping goes around the outer edges of the bag and along the top of the outer pockets, but it does *not* go along the top of the end pockets or along the handles. If you’re like me, matching is king and the end pockets seem to be missing something without the piping along the top. You won’t need to buy extra fabric if you’re making them (I had enough home made bias tape for quite a bit more piping if needed), but you will need extra cording.

Others have mentioned this one, but if you plan on making the piping yourself, buy a cording foot (1/4″ foot worked for me) and some fusible hem tape. Sure, the hem tape means you need to sit down for a bit and iron your piping closed, but it goes quickly. The piping foot works in such a way that the foot holds your piping in place while the needle can get right next to it for attaching purposes.

You’ll wind up doing a little hand cranking and rotating when you get to the corners of the bag, but I honestly can’t imagine attaching the piping without one. When you’re done and turn the piping over, you’ll find you have a perfect edge of piping.

The piping foot is also useful when you’re attaching the lining to the pockets. Although the piping is now sandwiched between the outer fabric and the lining, it’s pretty clear that the bump in your fabric is the piping and it still fits in the groove of the foot.

For the purpose of a first bag, I decided to leave the handle length as is. Some people thought they were too short to sling over your shoulder easily (the bag does look like it will be a bit wide, which would make it uncomfortable). Without a test run (and no one else mentioning exactly how much longer they made their handles) I didn’t feel comfortable fussing with the length. Maybe in a next version I’ll specifically add a shoulder strap for easy transport…

If you can’t tell from the picture, there’s not a lot of handle left at the top of the bag to grab. If you’re thinking of lengthening the handles, but aren’t sure by how much, start with 12″ longer per strap and play with it. Pin it, carry it around, adjust it. It’s only half the bag, but it will give you a decent idea of the carrying length.

Also, if you’re going to be using this bag to cart around heavier things, I’d reinforce the handles a bit more. The pattern only has you sew them down at three points – at the very bottom, a few inches down from the top and another few inches below that. If you’re carrying light things, I’m sure this won’t be a problem, but if you’re planning on anything heavier than a few night’s worth of clothes, it can’t hurt to sew it down in a few more places.

As you can see, the outside pockets cover the majority of the handles. This means, if you don’t have enough fabric to make the full handles even with piecing them together (each of my handles was made of three pieces of fabric sewn end to end), the bottom 10″ or so of each side of the handle are hidden by the pocket and can be anything you want.

The outer pocket is just one giant pocket. It will be sewn down at the sides and along the bottom, but that’s it. If you’re looking for something with multiple pockets on the outside, now is the time to sew the channels while you’re attaching the pocket to the main panel. Just make sure you use matching/coordinating thread.

I had the same problem with my zipper that many other people did as well – it’s nearly impossible to find the right length zipper that matches the description in the instructions. I wound up going with a heavy duty zipper that had a pull at each end and it was only be pure luck that it was gray and happened to mostly match my fabric. It’s okay to buy a shorter zipper if you need to, just make sure that when you sew 6″ up either side of the top panel in the attaching step, you’ll need to sew further to make up for the shorter zipper.

Attaching the zipper to the top panels was a little tricky. Although a foot conveniently came with my machine for sewing right next to heavy duty zippers (this probably wasn’t its intended purpose, but it worked!), it was very difficult to tell if the zipper teeth were centered along the seam. It’s a great method for hiding a heady duty/non-invisible zipper, but as you can see, my zipper wound up being a little skewed to one side. The trick to this is to measure the width of the zipper out from the center of the teeth and mark that onto the top panel fabric before pinning. That way, you’ll be able to tell if you’re off center as you’re sewing.

Now, you may be wondering where that red fabric came from. It wasn’t in the first picture of the quarter bundle, that’s for sure. Well, this is where buying a 4th bundle might have saved me. You see, I wound up having to piece my top panels together since my quarters were obviously not going to be long enough. This meant, instead of cutting two on the fold, I would cut 4 halves and sew them together. What I didn’t remember to do was double check that I flipped two of my halves over so they would match up on the right side. *facepalm* So, in addition to buying extra interfacing, I wound up having to buy another couple of quarters to recut the top panels. They obviously didn’t have the original fabric I purchased (I was also at a different store), but I was able to find something that matched. Although I bought 4 quarters, not knowing how much I’d need or what else I might mess up, I only needed to use two of them – one to recut the 4 outer pieces, and one to recut the 4 lining pieces (yes, I messed up on the lining, too….).

This also shows how the end pocket is attached to the top panel. No piping along the top. How hard would that have been??? Not very.

And that’s where I am at this point. I’ve attached the remainder of the piping along both completed side panels and am in the process of attaching the side panels to the top/bottom of the bag. This is by far the hardest part since not only is the fabric much thicker now but I also have to sew along the piping without seeing it.

Patience…patience…

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