How to Sew Store Quality Bags

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blanche fly 2

Swoon Blanche Barrel (small)


I love sewing.
I love sewing bags.
They are one size fits all. No need to tailor or worry about it being flattering over the hips. Bags are a great accessory, highly functional, so much fun to make, and are perfect gifts for all my friends.

It seems though, that many sewists are scared of making bags.  And I’m not quite sure why.  Weren’t we all scared the first time we sewed anything? Obviously we over came that.  Bags are no different.  The first time IS scary.

Here’s a Q&A that will help you make better bags.

How do I make my bag the right stiffness?
Part of this answer depends on the style of the bag.  Hobos and gym bags should be more flexible than a structured bowling bag, for example.
This also depends on your personal preference.  Decide if you prefer you bags more structured or softer, then pick the appropriate interfacing.

Types of Interfacing:
1. Pellon ShapeFlex 101: This is ideal for all linings.  It is a flexible, woven interfacing.  By applying this, it’s basically an additional layer of quilters weight fabric.  SF101 is great for any bag you want to have flexible exterior like hobos, soft clutches, fold over bags, etc.  One layer fused to the exterior is sufficient if you like soft bags but you can apply two layers to the exterior if you want just a bit more stability.  This is one of my favorite interfacings.  It can also be paired with fusible fleece; see that information below under #5.

The below bag is Swoon Bonnie.  I used one layer of SF101 on all pieces.  If you would like her a bit more structured, you could use two layers of SF101 on the exterior and one layer on the lining.


Swoon Bonnie


2.  Pellon Craftfuse 808/809: There IS a difference between the two other than the width.  808 is 20″ wide and 809 is 45″ wide.  According to the Pellon chart, 809 is recommended for bag use. 808 can be difficult to adhere smoothly, it can cause wrinkles on quilters weight cotton.  By my experience, 809 fuses on smoothly and provides a nice stabilization. 808 and 809 are the same stiffness and are more stiff than SF 101.  This can be combined with fusible fleece (described below in #5) for a very stable bag.


Swoon Dorothy

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 06.11.24
3.  Pellon Peltex: There are 3 types of Peltex.  70F is non-fusible (ie sew in).  71F is fusible on one side and 72F is double sided fusible.  Peltex is a super stiff stabilizer.  Best to use on the bottom of bags or for very stable clutches.  Peltex, honestly, can be very difficult to use.  It does not fuse to quilting weight cotton well and leaves wrinkles/bubbles.  You absolutely do not want Peltex in your seams.  Peltex should be cut the same shape as your pattern piece but make is the seam allowance smaller.  When you sew the pieces together, sew along the Peltex but not through it.  One option to avoid the wrinkles is to use 70F and shapeflex together.  Your Peltex will be smaller than your pattern piece.  Lay the Peltex on the wrong side of your fabric and lay a full sized shape flex piece on top of the Peltex, fusible side down.  Adhere the shapeflex to the seam allowance around the Peltex.


Swoon Glenda

4. Annie’s Soft and Stable/Pellon FF77 Foam Interfacing
Annie’s Soft and Stable is magnificent.  It is a foam interfacing that is basted (or maybe glued) on.  The foam interfacing provides a perfectly soft and stable bag.  Just as the name tells you.  It is a dream to work with and I highly recommend it for any bag you need soft yet stable! HA!
Swoon Sewing Patterns sells it.  You can buy it HERE.
Pellon just released FF77 foam interfacing-which you can purchase from Joanns.  I have not put my fingers on this yet, but from what I have seen and heard thus far is that it is basically the same thing. Plus you get to use those 50% coupon from Joanns. However, this is SO new right now, it is not available on line yet but I do know several Joanns stores are already carrying it.  Unfortunately my store is not one of them.  Sad face.
Like I mentioned you can baste the foam to your fabric within your seam allowance or you could use spray adhesive.  You would want to spray the foam and then put your fabric on top.  I would NOT spray your fabric because it will cause stains on your fabric.  I was a bit leery of doing this so I didn’t do it.  Test the spray adhesive then proceed with caution.
I literally just finished sewing up this Swoon Vivian, using Soft and Stable.  Isn’t she a beauty?


Swoon Vivian


5.  Pellon Fusible Fleece (Thermolam):  This can be combined with SF101 OR Craftfuse for a nice soft exterior.  Fusible fleece needs STEAM to adhere! Fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric first then fuse the Thermolam on top of the interfacing.  This combination can be difficult to sew around corners, but with practice it is manageable.  The Senna Tote is SF101 and Thermolam and Swoon Betty is Craftfuse and Thermolam on the exterior.


LBG studio/Willow & Co. Senna Tote


Swoon Betty

For the Diedelbug Handmade Restful Reader, I used Thermolam only for a soft and flexible room accessory.


What are the right fabrics to use?
Interior fabrics should 99.9% of the time be quilting weight cotton.  Store bought bags will have a satin lining sometimes.  While satin looks nice, it will snag and it can be much more difficult to sew.  When in doubt, pick a quality solid quilting weight fabric of a light color.  Black or dark interior colors aren’t as popular.

Exterior fabrics can be anything you dream of: Quilting weight cotton, polyester, silk, satin, home decor weight, canvas, burlap, suede, denim,leather, vinyl, cork, wool, etc.  Anything except knit fabrics.  Depending on your exterior fabric will determine how to choose your interfacing.
Light weight silk, satin, poly, etc will need sf101 (1 or 2 layers) for a soft sided bag.  For a more stiff bag, I would use foam interfacing.
Medium weights like quilting cotton you can use any kind of interfacing.  Pick what is appropriate for the softness and style of your bag.
Heavy fabrics like denim will depend on your bag. For this Swoon India I used a canvas for the exterior and used no interfacing for a soft sided hobo (used sf101 for the lining).  However, if you are sewing a structured bag, I would use either foam interfacing or the sf101 and fusible fleece combination.


Swoon India

Where can I buy leather and sparkle vinyl?
Leather is sold by Tandy Leather and Leather Hide Store.  Of course there are many other places as well but I do know both of those are reputable. Not into real leather? Girl Charlee now offers vegan leather.
Sparkle vinyl is all the rage now, thanks to Diedelbug Handmade for being a trend setter!  Here are some sparkle vinyl sellers:, Punkbroidery, Once Upon a Yard, and MiKri World.

What kind of tools do I need?   There are certain tools that will make bag making easier but nothing that you shouldn’t already have in your sewing room!
1. soluble marking pen-water or air soluble is fine.  I typically only use water soluble as I may make markings but take several days to sew.  Air soluble markings will obviously disappear on you.  Lesson learned!
2. walking foot-These usually come standard when you buy a sewing machine.  A walking foot has ‘feet’ on the foot and the feet pull the top fabric at the same speed as the feed dogs pull the bottom fabric.  This is super helpful when constructing your bag.  A walking foot is my best friend.
3. zipper foot-obviously for sewing zippers and should have come with your machine
4. piping foot-not standard with machine purchase.  You will have to buy this separately and is optional.  I don’t have one actually (I use my zipper foot) though I have heard a piping foot is well worth the investment.
5. quality thread-I use Mettler or Gutterman only.  My machine does not like Coat and Clark and honestly the thread sucks.  Coat and Clark is just not durable enough for bags (in my opinion.  I’m sure there are plenty out there who have had good luck).
6. edge joiner/top stitching foot-this comes with high end machines.  If you don’t have one, get one.  It is excellent for stitching handles, connectors and anything you need to top stitch.  There is a guide on the foot to help you sew perfectly straight producing a beautiful top stitch.
7. binder clips/pins-Some people swear by Clover clips.  I just picked p a $2 box of regular ol’ binder clips from Target. Nothin’ fancy up in here.  Clips are needed when you are sewing materials that cannot be pinned such as leather,  suede,vinyl, satin, silk, etc.
Your normal pins work just find for all other pinning instances.
8. needles-as with any project, pick the right needle for the job.  Microtex has a very pointy end and is good for vinyl.  Leather needle for leather, denim needle for denim.  Size 60 for super light weight (satin, silk).  Size 70 for normal cotton.  Size 90 for canvas/home decor weight.

Do I need a special sewing machine?
The short answer is NO!  You don’t need anything special to sew bags.  As long as your sewing machine isn’t “light weight”, you’ll be fine.  Will heavier machines be better?  Well, of course an industrial machine is ideal, but we have to be realistic here…For a few years I sewed on Janome Magnolia 7318.  For a $250 machine, she was rockin! She really stitched beautifully.  I do know a lot of people have a Brother CS600i and have had good luck. I personally don’t have any experience with this machine so I only go based on what I hear.
Currently I sew on a Janome 8200.  I chose this specific one because it has an 11″ throat.  She’s a dream and I’m a Janome lover.

Where can I find all that beautiful hardware?
One of the best places to find budget friendly hardware and excellent shipping is StrapWorks.  There are other places on Etsy, etc that you can find hardware but StrapWorks has been my go-to place.  They offer all the sizes and colors you would ever need!
Click on THIS page, select the color you want and then the correct size of rectangle loops, D-ring,s O-rings, strap slide and swivel clips you need.
BeingBags on Etsy is another great place to find hardware. I have not ordered from there but have heard great things.

What do I need to know about zippers? For interior zippers or exterior size zippers, a #3 all purpose zipper is perfect.  For the main zipper of the bag, I prefer to see 4.5mm handbag zippers.
My favorite place is Zipper Island.  She has the most beautiful colors, excellent service, and fast shipping.  I buy her handbag and regular zippers since the colors will match.
I have also heard great things about Zip It. I have not purchased from there though.
Wawak is also a popular place to buy various sewing items including zippers.  While they can be VERY inexpensive, I (personally) have never been pleased with the colors of the zippers. I’d rather spend a bit more for great colors.

How about charms for those zippers?
I have purchased from both of these places and had a great experience.  But there are many more shops on Etsy.
Bohemian Findings
Nicole de Bruin

Where can I purchase tags?
I use iron on tags from Ananemone.  I love them.  Currently engraved wooden tags are popular. All This Wood has some great options for that.

How about those rivets?
Adding rivets is a great way to make your bag look more professional and store bought.  I have not ventured into this realm yet since I don’t sell bags often.  But here is what I know about them.
The size of rivet you need depends on the thickness of fabric you are using.  If using leather or vinyl and your handle is thick, you most likely need 9mm rivet.  If using a cotton handle, 6 or 7mm rivets will be okay.  Here is a visual chart.  You will want a punch and a rivet setter. Or check out everything Tandy Leather offers. Here is a great low-down on how to set rivets.

I hope you find this helpful in your bag making adventures!  Check out the “Teach Me” page for my sewalongs and video tutorials!