Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Bag to End All Bagmaking (So I Vowed)

Some time ago I promised to write about a handbag I made in July. I'm finally ready to do it. I'm not sure what it is about my procrastination in blogging. I do my best writing with a really clear head, which I don't always have. So I put it off. Going forward, I'm going to try to blog during the process of making things, so things are fresher and quicker in getting onto the page. But I'm usually sewing full-tilt when I'm making something, so my head won't be clear... I don't know what the answer is. Any recommendations or thoughts from you readers are welcome!

Anyway, here it is, The Bag to End All Bag Making:

I started out with the desire to make a sturdy canvas bag to schelp all of my stuff to work - normal handbag items plus lunch and a water bottle. The natural colored canvas I painted with a wash didn't thrill me, but the pieces of linen I had painted with silk screen images did. So I switched to black duck, and was going to make "windows" in it and stitch the linen pieces in behind. Ever try to make a clean, flat window in duck? Not a chance. That's when Marcy Tilton's Vogue 8173 popped out of my pattern cabinet.

(Yes, I own a retro Butterick cabinet, gifted from an acquaintance who purchased it from a store that went out of business decades ago. It holds my pattern stash and much, much more.) But I digress.

The pattern is out of print, and I purchased it years ago because it incorporated silk screening. In fact, it's one of the patterns that nudged me into learning to paint fabric. I had never made it, and I had all of these images painted onto colorful fabric, and I had some gray silk dupioni and gray silk organza, and steam a seam lite, and batting, and Craf-Tex, and hardware, so I dove into the project. And it consumed me. For days. Weeks. For, maybe, 60 to 80 hours. Waaaaay too much time. But it was only time, and I was having fun, so it was all good.

Why did it take so much time? Cutting was partly to blame. I was very careful to cut the dupioni on grain, so I didn't double layer it. The various interfacings were stiff and bulky, so I cut them in one layer. All together, from the outside to the lining, there are 9 layers.
Interfacings, Steam a Seam, batting, and stiff
paperboard to stabilize the bottom.
Also, I cut out all of the images painted on the linen. Scissors worked best, but it took a lot of time. Sewing took a long time, too, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Materials for the exterior, and templates for
cutting the images into shapes.
The exterior of the bag is constructed in several layers. The first step is to paint the Steam a Seam Lite. In this photo, you'll notice dark coral rectangles toward the top of the bag. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

These, along with dark gray squares across the center and dark teal rectangles along the bottom, were painted on the Steam a Seam. After they dried, I fused them to the two outer pieces of the bag. Peeling away the paper, I had a nice, tacky surface to lay the linen pieces and ribbon on. Then I fused the silk organza on top. The Steam a Seam melted into the dupioni, but also held the organza in place.

Quilting was the next step, and it took a long time. Probably 4 to 5 hours for each side. I used two colorways of variegated thread, outlining each piece and tying the ends on the back side of the fabric. This added a big Wow factor, bringing the linen pieces into focus behind the organza. 

I love how the many layers give so much depth. You can see the texture in the dupioni, the painting on the Steam a Seam, the linen pieces, the organza, and finally the stitching. The light batting gives the linen fragments some dimension.

I didn't have enough aqua/turquoise linen for the lining, so I used a stretch cotton satin from Sawyer Brook. I applied a non-stretch fusible interfacing to keep it from stretching, which worked very well.

Marcy included a zippered pocket in the pattern. I made it slightly deeper, and changed the technique a bit. She used the top zipper tape as the top edge of the pocket. I chose to cut a strip of fabric for the top instead. I love the contrast of the zipper with the gray dupioni.

I wanted more pockets, so I created a double pocket that is tucked to make pouch shapes. I couldn't resist using a painted linen remnant for the lining.

I love trimming interior pockets with ribbon. It adds a little detail that makes me smile when I see it.

These pockets are perfect for my glasses case and phone. I added a magnetic snap at the center above the pockets, to hold the bag closed.

I thought the shirred handles shown in the pattern photo looked dated, so I made stiff ones. I cut them a few inches shorter, as I don't carry bags on my shoulders. The handles are made with the technique I described in my previous post. I love how rigid the Craf-Tex makes them. They don't crumble in my hand!

Before assembling the outer bag, I cut pieces of heavy Craf-Tex the size of the sides of the bag. The corner edges of the bag are edgestitched, which holds the Craf-Tex in place. Craf-Tex is a very stiff product that gives the bag the rigidness and stability I like. I didn't use it on the ends, because I wanted them to fold in.

Applying the binding was the point at which this became The Bag to End All Bag Making. I vowed to never make another handbag again, ever. I recall begging the Universe to save me from myself. Sewing through all of the layers and getting the binding even were very demanding tasks, and tried my patience. it was quite crazy making!

In hindsight, I should have used the lite Craf-Tex, as the heavy was very difficult to stitch through, especially with 8 other layers involved. It was a real struggle for my machine, and I had to hand stitch the ring tabs in place on the inside, as my Pfaff just couldn't handle it.

Surprise, surprise - the Universe did not save me from myself. (Does it ever?) Two weeks later, I made another bag. With Craf-Tex only in the handles. And lots of paint, lots of color, and lots of play. It was a blast. So was this one, actually. I really enjoyed the process, enjoyed seeing what the bag became as I worked on it. And now I enjoy carrying it. It's not a canvas tote, but my handbag necessities fit inside, and I can even squeeze a sandwich into it!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

French Holiday Bag

I promised to write about the bag I made in July, but first I want to tell you about the bag I made in the past week. As soon as I finished The Bag To End All Bagmaking, sneak peeked in my previous post, I learned about a handbag contest on Pattern Review. The bag had to be made between August 1 and 15. At first I didn't think I had the reserves to make another bag right away, but with the encouragement of others and two weeks of trying to figure out what to make, I started on this:

I've had Marcy Tilton's Vogue 8590 in my pattern stash for several years. It was actually the impetus that led me to collecting silk screens and learning how to use them. I've been gathering silk dupioni pieces as I see them when fabric shopping. When I realized this gorgeous rayon batik from Sawyer Brook coordinated nicely with several of the silks, I chose it as a lining fabric and dove into the project.

First up was to cut my fabric pieces down to size to prepare for painting them. I prefer to paint before cutting pattern pieces out, as it's easier to handle larger pieces of fabric. My bag is made from 8 fabrics (the pattern calls for 9, including lining). Marcy made the cutting process much easier by grouping pattern pieces according to which fabric they're to be cut from. Here is a sample panel:

The pieces are drafted on the same grain line, so you can simply lay the panel over the fabric and cut the pieces out. This is what I did, with the exception of two fabrics that were small and required the pieces to be placed closer together in different arrangements. To make placing the painted images easier, I drew an outline of each piece on the dupioni using a disappearing chalk. Here is one of the painted panels, before the pieces were cut out:

When selecting which silk screen images to use, I considered the lining fabric. It spoke to me of fields of sunflowers and blazing bonfires at sunset. The sunflowers led me to Provence, and the French Holiday Bag was given its name. I used images culled from French culture - a fleur-de-lis, the Eiffel Tower, a letter written in French, a labyrinth from Chartres - as well as natural elements such as a singing bird, a nautilus shell, honeycomb, a bee, and a hydrangea.

Painting these pieces was lots of fun. It was challenging to keep in my head which colors of fabric would be adjacent to one another in the finished bag, so I could choose paint colors accordingly. I used 7 colors of Lumiere that echo the colors in the fabrics. 

Construction of the bag went smoothly, with one exception. The interfacing was a Goldilocks affair. The first was too stiff, the second was too limp, but the third was just right. 
I started by fusing Acro, a very stiff tailoring interfacing, to all of the outer pieces. After sewing the sides of the bag together, I realized there was no way it was going to gather well when the elastic was inserted into the front and back. it was just. too. darn. stiff. Out came the seam ripper and the seams, and I peeled off all of the interfacing. 
My next choice was Armo Weft, a weft-insertion interfacing that gives soft stability. After fusing it, I knew this would gather nicely, so I moved forward and sewed the outer shell of the bag. And it had very little body. 
Sooooo, I added a layer of Form-Flex, a woven fusible that had just the right amount of oomph. 

The left side with Form-Flex. Nice and stiff, as opposed to the opposite side! It fused nicely over the sides of the bag, even though the seams had been sewn. After fusing, I stitched the Form-Flex to the seam allowances, to keep it in place. Not the proper method of applying interfacing, but no way was I ripping the seams out again.
It stands up! Much better.

The bag has four pockets - one on each outside end, a zippered one inside, and an open double pocket inside. I used the zippered one as drafted, but cut the other one longer, and made two small tucks at the bottom edge. 

This forms a pouch, which makes it easier to slip in a glasses case or cell phone. I like to add small details to my bags, so I stitched on some grosgrain ribbon. 

The grosgrain is also on the inside of the outer pockets, where it will never be seen (but it will make me smile when I remember it!)

The zippered pocket uses a welt method for inserting the zipper. It makes a nice, clean finish. I love all this color!

I wanted stiff, uncrushable handles, so I made some changes there. For each handle I cut two pieces of fabric and a 1" strip of Craf-Tex Lite, a stiff interfacing  product Marcy stocks. It's fusible, so I simply wrapped one piece of fabric around it and fused. 

I pressed the edges of the other strip of fabric an eighth of an inch narrower, sprayed it with adhesive, and finger pressed it to the other strip. I then edge stitched the handle with the narrower fabric facing up.

This process encases all of the raw edges without having to turn a tube of fabric, and the Craf-Tex makes it very durable.

To stabilize the bottom, Marcy recommends plastic canvas or cardboard. I prefer a really stiff bottom in my bags, and years ago I purchased a large piece of paperboard. It works great for this purpose. I add a layer of needlepunch so there's no "CLUNK" when I drop things into my bag.

I added feet to the bottom of the bag, which is why you see a hole drilled in the paperboard.

I ran into some difficulty when trying to pull the elastic through the casings on the front and back. My bodkin slipped off the elastic several times. I finally got it through. Instead of stitching in the ditch with the machine, I did it by hand. There's a ditch on the facing side, too, so the stitching needed to hide in both ditches.

Marcy used narrow ties to close the bag, which gave a nice finishing touch. I knew I wouldn't want to have to tie it shut, so I inserted a small magnetic snap in the center front and back facings.

The snap makes the bag a bit plainer, but with all of the images, color, and that fabulous lining, I think it looks just great! It won't be an everyday bag, but I can hardly wait to carry it to a museum, out to dinner, or on a shopping trip. Who knows? Maybe some day I'll get to carry it in Provence!