Thursday, 4 October 2012

Dreaming about the ideal handbag

Do you have handbag passions? Are there things you absolutely must have in a bag? Make or break stuff? I know I do. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve turned away from fabulous bags, even at ridiculous prices, because I know how cross I’ll be when I can’t fit my phone into a place that’s secure but accessible, or my keys somewhere I can find them. I know I’m not alone in wanting the perfect handbag. Here are my absolute must-haves:

  • Single zippered top – I really can’t be doing with which zipper I have to undo to find the segment with my keys in. Statistically, it will be the wrong one 50% of the time. Not efficient.
  • No top flap – you flip it open and get out your wallet; flip it closed (coz it’s in the way); pay; flip it open and put in your wallet; flip it closed (see above); pick up your shopping; phone rings; flip it open… it’s like a teenage girl with her hair. Flick, flick.
  • Inside pocket for my phone – why the heck would you want your phone in a loose pocket on the outside? Just begging to lose it.
  • Inside pockets for money wallet, card wallet and keys. I gave up playing Hunt the Thimble a long time ago.
  • Outside zippered pocket for all those things we need to have handy, like the train ticket. I’m sure all those people really don’t mind waiting while I scrabble through my bag, do they?
  • Long or adjustable straps – the point of a bag is to have your hands free to do other stuff. Hanging from your wrist is not hands-free.
  • Must hold my sketchbook. It’s only A5. It’s essential to life but it’s also a handy repository for those stray bits of paper that come my way.
  • Must hold my folding umbrella, even if it sticks out the end a bit. This is where those dinky mobile phone pockets can be handy, if they’re big enough. They usually aren’t.
If you’ll buy any handbag with a designer’s label on it or you don't much care about the features it has, all this must seem pretty weird. Obviously, your bag fulfils other functions for you than being just a pretty place to carry things. I get that. I just want a bag that suits my style.

 Lately, I’ve given up on bought bags entirely, except for travelling, so I make my own. I’ve shown bags I’ve made here in the past, but I don’t think I’ve had my bag rant before! I’m making a new one now, which is rather like the graffiti bag, but it has a couple of useful improvements on that one. The new one is made from a couple of the fabrics from breakdown printing and I think it’s going to be gorgeous.
 
This is the main fabric..
... and this is the lining.

When I make bags, I tend to think of them as modular units. I have to make six units, a bag body with outer pocket and some kind of stiffening, a bag lining (which may also be stiffened), straps, tangs to hold the straps on (optional but a style I like), flanges or tops for the bag (adds structure and generally looks good) and an inner base to strengthen the bottom (which may go inside the bag or between the bag and lining).

Here’s the bag modular unit, finished.
It’s interlined with a stiff interfacing that I bought at Spotlight for hat making, because I couldn’t get Sinamay at the time. It’s fabric about the thread count of Shapewell, but stiffened with something so it’s almost crackly like paper. I think it was sold as buckram, but it isn’t like the buckram I’ve used before. It has a zipper in the top and a welt pocket inserted in one side, so that it doesn’t interfere with the fabric print to much.

Construction was pretty easy. I inserted the welt pocket in one side piece first. I won’t tell you how to do that, as there are fantastic videos out there showing the method. Then I basted in the interlining and sewed the zipper between the top pieces while they were flat. Easy! Then it’s just side seams and that funny little seam along the bottom corners to make the base.

The lining was made in the same way, with double pockets added to flat pieces of fabric. I always add a little pleat in the bottom of my inner pockets, so they have some fullness. Great for fat things like bunches of keys.
 
This time, I added an innovation. I was going to add a collar of fabric to take my umbrella, so it would stand up at the opening end of the zipper. Then it occurred to me that I could add a plastic pocket, so I can slide a damp umbrella back into my bag without making everything else damp. I cut a strong snaplock bag to fit the collar and sewed it on at the top, with the open edge of the bag aligned with the raw edges of the collar. So now my collar was lined with plastic with the bag hanging down below the collar to the bottom of the bag.
 
I sewed the open edges into the bag lining seam, so the umbrella pocket hangs along the side seam, projecting out into the bag. I have no idea how long the plastic bag will last, but if it goes into a hole, I’ll be no worse off than having just the collar in the first place, will I?

 The top flanges were made to sit above the edge of the bag this time. Stitching them to the bag is always a little fiddly, because of the zipper, but it’s a lot easier using a zipper foot. I could have sewn them on before I sewed the bag side seams but after I put in the zipper.
The top flange in the picture is the inside, the lower one is the outside.
 
The tabs and straps were made by knife edging the fabric around the stiffener. I sometimes reinforce my straps and tabs with wire or other material that resists casual cutting, especially if I’m planning to take the bag overseas, but I didn’t bother this time.

 
I generally find it’s a good idea to leave about 1/8in fold of just fabric past the stiffener, as it makes the strap easier to topstitch. In the same way, I tend to trim the stiffener at the ends so I’m not sewing through multiple layers when it comes time to attach the straps and tabs.

 The bag lining is generally sewn in by hand, by folding over the top edge and slipstitching. I could machine stitch it in, but it’s a bit fiddly, especially with this very stiff stiffening. Sometimes I machine stitch after I’ve hand stitched, for extra strength.

So that’s it. I’ll show you the bag next time, once I’ve finished off the last little bit. I’m thinking that, next time, it might be good to add a hole with a large eyelet in one of the inner pockets, so I can put in a key ring. Then I can snap my keys on their extender to the key ring. At the moment, I clip the extender to the pocket and that doesn’t do the fabric of the pocket any good. I suspect I’ll be twiddling the pattern for this bag for a long time to come!