- sturdy cotton/twill fabric (I’m using denim)
- a contrasting colour/fabric band for the top (printed cottons are jazzy!)
- cord (fabric, ribbon, plasticised rope…)
- embroidery thread
- an iron, if you’re doing it properly
- a big ol’ safety pin
I’m making my whole bag from denim, and adding a contrasting band over the top, with top stitching, so that the whole bag is sturdy! I cut my main bag on the fold, to save sewing the bottom seam – a handy tip, because if you sew the seam, if anything pointy gets jogged about in there, it might start to snag the seam and make a hole, but hey, I’m making mine without a bottom seam! I sort of blagged how big I want it to be, so decide on size based on what you want it to carry. It might only need to be big enough for a book or two, or you might want it big enough for a chunky towel and swimming kit. Your choice, craft fans! **Just remember – you’ll lose a little on the measurements because of seams and the fold down at the top for the cord channel**
As I’m using a printed cotton for the top band, I need the pattern to be even as best I can. If you’ve got one with polka dots or tiny flowers or a stripe, it’s easier to get away with, but I think this lady will notice if I chop a fox’s head off! My contrast bands are two foxes deep each (metric) but it can be as narrow or wide as you want. Personalisation and choice, my friends. When the bands get sewn on, they’ll be sewn to what will be the top edge at both sides, so you’ll get a long rectangle with bands at each end (mirror image, so your animals are all the right way up!!) before you sew up the sides. Mine are two bands with a gap, but you can do one wide one, or a narrow one at the bottom: Up. To. You.
It is at this point that we must repair to the ironing station. Proper sewing people will tell you that you need to press a lot of things when sewing, and hand on heart I don’t always bother. But for this, if you want your contrast band to have a nice crisp edge (and this will also help your top stitching) you should really press your edge under. So steam up those craft rooms! Fold the top and bottom edge of the contrast under until it’s as narrow as you want it to be, and press those folds so you get a sharp line. It’ll then stay tucked under, making the pinning a lot easier. Dual purpose ironing!
OK, now the work begins. Luckily this stitching is all in straight lines! Easy peasy.
**Before you do anything else, you need to know how fat your cord is going to be. If you are using ready-made cord, or ribbon, great. Grab it. If you’re going to make cord by plaiting things, or rouleau tubes, you need to do this now, so you can work out how big the cord channel needs to be at the top.**
I’m using a synthetic cord rope stuff they sell at Hobbycraft in the ribbons and rickrack section. It’s not very fat, so I don’t need a huge turn down at the top. Right. So. Measure from the top edges of your backing fabric twice the width and a bit of your cord channel. That’s where the top of the contrast band will sit, so it’s neat along the bottom of the cord channel. Neatness is key in this project I’m afraid.
Remember how we pressed the contrast bands? Those creases should have held nicely. We’re going to top stitch now, so the band needs pinning to the right side (the visible-when-finished side) of the bag. The top edge needs to sit juuuuust under where the cord channel seam will be, so you won’t accidentally sew over the cord channel and make it too narrow. Pin those bands, and neatly, gently, lovingly top stitch. I’m using a matching thread (the top machine thread is visible, and the bottom thread is on the inside) but you can contrast if you like. Hopefully, she says confidently, when this big long rectangle is folded in half, the two sides will match up. If they don’t; make a cup of tea, and don’t stress about it. It can be fixed. It can be saved. It can be beautiful. **This is when I stitched the name on the front, when I could still get to the inside easily**
If/when your two halves match, fold the rectangle right sides together so you can sew up the two sides. It is super important to make sure the two outsides are sandwiched together so that the seams are tucked inside the bag when you turn it the other way out. Pin the two sides together (making sure the band edges still match!) and sew up to just past the top of the contrast band. DON’T sew right up to the top and close off the holes you need for the cord. If you want to, when that’s done, and you’re breathing a sigh of relief, and also marvelling in your awesomeness, you can quickly stitch at right angles at the bottom of the cord channel just to fix the top of the seam.
In order to make the edges nice and finished at the top, you need to turn in the sides at the top by a seam’s width (about 5/8 of an inch is standard) as far down as you measured, and machine stitch. This should naturally fold to follow the seam you’ve just done.
This will stop the edge fraying and make it look like you made something competently. It’s all in the details. Then, turn the top edge down, right side facing out, so the tucked under bit is on the inside of the bag. It is now up to you which way round you stitch. I am going to stitch this so that the top thread on the machine is on the inside (so I’m sewing while looking at the fold) and the bottom machine thread will be visible from the outside. It’s up to you if you want hidden or contrasting thread. I’m choosing not to contrast thread. Pin and sew the two top edges and voilà, cord channel halves. This seam should run just above the top of your contrast bands, as you can see on the left below.
We are so almost done! Now we need to thread the cord. I am choosing to attach my cord top and bottom, to make shoulder straps, but again, you can decide how you want your finished bag to look. Keep it hand-held if you want. If you’re going to attach the cord at the bottom as well, make sure you cut an eyelet big enough to get the cord through but not so big it can come back out. Because of the cord I’m using, I can pass it through, knot it, and then melt the ends with a match to stop it coming undone. So my eyelets need to be smaller than the knots. If you’re lucky enough to have a beefy eyelet punch, go with that. If not, you’ll need to buttonhole the edges with thread to stop them fraying and make it look neat. I hate that part.
Time for the threading and then we’re done, I promise. How many cups of tea have you had by now? I know this seems like a really long tutorial but you can zip through it, honest! You need to cut your cord in half, to make it “drawstring” properly. Take one half, put the safety pin on the end to help with feeding it through, and push it into the cord channel. Feed it through one side and come back the other. Pull it through until the ends are even. Now put the pin on the other half of the cord, and do the mirror image, so you have ends on each side. Put them through the holes at the bottom and secure with a knot or stitch. Ta-da! (or just knot the ends if you’re leaving it at that)
I added one extra step: stitching on the name of the recipient with embroidery thread. This is optional. You could get applique letters, or free stitch initials, or whatever. I free-stitched the name cursive in the gap I put between the two bands.
Now it’s really, really done. Enjoy your bags and salt the earth of your craft room, never to return! Until next time…
- MEASURE accurately or your sides won’t match
- IRON those cotton bands!
- FIRST top stitch
- THEN side seams
- NEXT top channel and threading
- EYELET HOLE needs to stay SMALL