I’ve become quite proficient at using the sewing machine at this point. I started sewing about three years ago and I’ve gained enough confidence to start blogging some tutorials for anyone who also is interested in learning.
One of the main reasons why I wanted to learn to sew was because I wanted to make my own gear for knitting and crocheting. I often have three or four projects going at the same time so I started to feel the need for project bags. Having a bag for every project, though? That’s expensive! I was on a mission to sew my own. Of course, you can knit or crochet project bags, too, as you probably have already seen on my blog. Knitting and crocheting them and inserting a fabric lining, in fact, was where I began to learn how to sew project bags. You see, a fabric lining for a knitted or crocheted bag is actually a bag half-sewn.
To my fellow knitters and crocheters who very eagerly and publicly declare that they do not sew: I used to be like that. Somehow the chip in my brain changed. Now I find sewing just as much fun as knitting and crocheting, although I must admit that I try to do as little sewing as possible (or none at all) in my yarn projects. It’s quite the contradiction. I don’t mind.
So, do you want to learn how to sew a round project of the caliber that you can find on Etsy or elsewhere, sewn by hand, and expensive looking? Read on. Just remember that I don’t like pockets in my bags so, if you wish to have pockets for yours you’ll have to figure out how to add them yourself.
I have found that the most cost-effective and best results come from using canvas. It’s stiff, strong, and, when you use it as an exterior and a lining it will hold up so you can keep your working ball of yarn inside while you knit or crochet. You just fold the top of the bag down, retrieve your piece in progress leaving the yarn ball inside, and you’re good to go. Here’s a picture of what I mean and how it works:
Digression: I despise pockets in my project bags because 1) things fall into them and then I wonder where they went 2) I can’t be bothered to store tools in the bags, I prefer a zipper pouch with all my tools, which I can transfer from one bag to another.
So, here we go with the tutorial. Bear with me and my photography, please. I took pictures with my iPhone as I sewed a bag to illustrate my instructions and some of them aren’t so nice (others are awesome!).
- Canvas, enough for a bag exterior, lining, shoulder strap, and loops for the drawstring
- Cord, either store-bought or homemade (you could knit icord, braid a kumihimo cord, or crochet one!)
- Tailor’s chalk or fabric pencil
- Sewing machine (unless you wish to sew it by hand)
- Measuring tape
- Straight edge ruler
- Compass, for drawing circles
Dimensions: As big or small as you want
This tutorial looks like it’s for a project that will take ages to complete. Actually, if you’re pretty good at sewing it shouldn’t take you longer than three or four hours from the first step to the final step. Once you’ve completed a bag successfully you will be able to make more of them in less time than that.
The procedure is straight-forward. Two separate cylinders, with circular bottoms, are sewn: the exterior and the lining. These two cylinders are then combined, leaving a 2″ hole around each side seam. The shoulder strap ends are then inserted into these holes to be sewn together, attaching the strap to the bag and closing up the holes.
The holes not only permit the shoulder strap to be attached to the bag. They also allow for sewing the lining to the inside of the bag with a neat and professional look.
Step 1: Think (with math) before brandishing sharp things
For this bag I’m using canvas fabrics that are the same print but with contrasting color schemes. You can find canvas fabrics that compliment each other or, if you wish to get even more advanced, you can patch together different pieces to create interesting, crazy designs.
I’ve discovered that measuring and cutting the fabric for a sewing project is actually the most difficult and crucial stage in the process. Mainly, this is because you can make a piece of fabric smaller but, once it’s cut, that’s it, it’s impossible to make it bigger.
Before cutting you need to decide how big you need your bag to be. It’s a cylindrical drawstring bag so it needs to be x” tall and x” around. To make your decision it might be helpful to make a circle with your measuring tape to see how big, say, 20″ of circumference is. Then, you need to remember that you will be sewing seams, which will take away from the circumference a bit. So, if you think you will need, for example, a bag with a 20″ circumference, add an inch to that number. Now, you have a theoretical circumference, a number that allows for seams and fraying. We will work with this number throughout the tutorial and not the actual dimensions of the finished project.
Also, to decide on your dimensions, the type of knitting or crochet project you want it to store is important. In this tutorial, I’m making a bag large enough to hold a sweater project (that means all the yarn and the work in progress). My bag, including seam allowances, has a theoretical circumference of about 31″ and a height of 22″. You will see in the pictures that this is a pretty big bag! If you just want something to tote around a sock or doily project, think smaller. My small project bags actually have the same circumference of 31″ but are shorter, about 11″ tall.
Once you’ve decided on your measurements it’s time to do some math so you get the bottom right. It needs to be a circle so it’s time to use Pi. In fact, I suggest you play with your calculator a bit and figure out what diameter and radius of a circle you need to fulfill your circumference requirements. It’s far easier to calculate than it is to measure after you’ve sewn the body of the bag. So, taking my example of a circumference of 31″, it turns out that the diameter of my circle will be 10″ because 2 * radius * 3.14 = circumference (you can round up and down). A circle’s radius is half its diameter, so 2 * 5 * 3.14 =31.4. I rounded down because my decimal was below five. If your decimal is five or above, round up. Now, if you wish to discover your circle’s diameter starting with your circumference you need the formula radius = circumference / 6.28. So, using my circumference’s example, 5 = 31.4 / 6.28. If you want to get really accurate with your calculations, take Pi out as many decimal places as you like. By the way: I got the number 6.28 by multiplying 2 times 3.14.
Step 2: Cut out the pieces
OK, now that the math is done, let’s measure, draw, and cut. Be warned and totally aware: You may be surprised, if you’ve never worked with canvas before, by the measurements of the fabric pieces. Also remember that this isn’t clothing so we’ve got a seam allowance of 1/2″. You will be cutting loose threads constantly when you’re sewing. I recommend checking every piece of fabric before sewing for nice results (otherwise, you’ll find loose threads sewn to the right side of your work, icky!)
You need to cut out the following pieces:
4 big rectangles (2 for the bag exterior and 2 for the lining, each having a width measuring half the theoretical circumference of the bag).
6 little rectangles (2 for the drawstring loops, 4 for the shoulder straps)
2 circles (1 for the bag bottom and 1 for the lining bottom)
A. Let’s start by cutting the bag exterior and lining pieces (4 rectangles organized into two pairs):
a) measure the height and width (in my case, 22″ tall and 16″ wide)
b) if you can’t cut a straight line, like I can’t, use a straight-edge ruler to draw lines on the wrong side of the fabric after taking measurements
B. Now, let’s cut out the two circles:
a) use a compass to draw a half circle on a piece of cardboard with the required diameter
b) cut out the cardboard so you have something like this:
c) decide on the area of fabric where you’d like to cut and fold so that the right sides are facing each other; the crease should be nearest you, like this:
d) line up the straight edge of your cardboard half circle with the crease, like this:
e) with tailor’s chalk or fabric pencil, trace around the round edge of the half-circle, remove cardboard, cut, and you should have these results:
f) unfold your half-circle and admire your fabric circle:
g) repeat this procedure once more with the other fabric you chose (either for the lining or the bag exterior).
C. Cut out little rectangles for the drawstring loops and shoulder strap
Decide how long you want your shoulder strap and divide by four. That’s how long your rectangles will be for the shoulder strap. Decide how long you want your loops. I made mine pretty long so that the cord wouldn’t hang all over the place. Actually, I made all my little rectangles 10″ long. I suppose for a smaller circumference bag you might want your cord loops to be 5 or 6″.
The rectangles all need to be 4″ wide.
When you’re done cutting, you should have six rectangles (3 in each color):
That’s it for cutting. Iron your pieces so they lie flat and cut off any loose, hanging threads (this is canvas, so be prepared to cut loose threads throughout your project). Now we have all the pieces of fabric required.
Keep your iron hot because now we’re going to work on the loops for the drawstring.
Step 3: Iron and sew the creases on the cord loops
Canvas frays a lot, so it’s pretty unsightly to zig-zag sew visible edges. We want to hide the edges inside the drawstring loops. So, let’s crease the ends. To keep everything symmetrical on the finished project, iron the creases on both little rectangles at the same time. You should get these results:
Now you can turn your iron off and sew down the little flaps you made:
Now, fold them length-wise, with the right sides facing each other, and sew them together. Obviously, you don’t want to sew the ends shut. When they’re sewn together, turn them right-side out. Turning them right-side out requires some patience, but you’ll get the trick.
Step 4: Sew the loops onto the exterior pieces of the bag
Get your two large rectangles for your bag’s exterior and pin the loops onto them. Position them where you would like the cord for your drawstring to be. To keep everything symmetrical, do both pieces at once and pin them to your bag’s exterior. When you’re happy with how they’re pinned, sew them in place, one at a time:
Step 5: Sew the exterior pieces and the lining pieces, separately.
Now we’re going to pin and sew the large rectangles. You only want to sew the vertical edges together, not the bottoms or the tops. Also, right now we are not sewing the lining to the bag body. For now, the lining and the exterior are treated separately. So, pin the two large rectangles for your bag’s exterior together, with the right sides facing each other, and sew vertically on each edge. Do the same for the lining.
Step 6: Pin and sew the exterior bottom and lining bottom (do this twice, once for the exterior and once for the lining)
Pinning together a cylinder is very tricky. For this step, it helps to have a bunch of clean towels to stuff the cylinders with. This gives the piece the right form to accurately pin the circular bottoms to them. To stuff your bag exterior and your lining, hold the piece right-side up, insert the towels, pack them all the way down, and smoosh the working fabric down. Then, turn your bag or lining up-side down (making sure the towels don’t fall out). Here are some visuals to help you grasp what I’m talking about:
Now, pin a circle to the bottom. You should end up with this:
Just remember that you pin the pieces so that the right sides face each other and you should only be able to see the wrong sides of everything.
Now, it’s time to remove the towels and sew the bottom to the body. Sewing in a circle can be tricky, especially with a sewing machine, because the machine only knows how to move things in a straight line. You have to guide the fabric carefully through the machine. A trick I’ve learned is to “aim for my finger.” I know, this seems stupid, since we always joke around about sewing our fingers to our fabric. Really, all you need to do is place your finger tip on a point your aiming for on the fabric (the next pin head is a good place to put your finger). Here’s what it looks like when you’re working:
Don’t forget to remove a pin before sewing over it!
Step 7: Sew the lining into the bag exterior
This step can be a bit confusing, so read very carefully: turn the lining right-side out and only do this to the lining. Here’s what your pieces should look like (on the left of the picture you see the lining, to the right you see the bag exterior):
Now, insert the lining into the bag exterior, just as you have your pieces as pictured above, with the lining right-side out and the exterior inside-out. Making sure the seams on each piece are lined up with each other, pin them together, keeping in mind that you’re going to sew along the top of the bag. Once you’ve got everything pinned in place, get out your tape measure and draw two lines, one at 0″ and another at 2″, like this:
The lines are bars, marking off 2″ zones where you will not sew.Make sure you do this for both side seams.
Now, it’s time to sew along the top of the bag, leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance at the top, unless your fabric frayed really horribly like mine did (check out the picture below). You will sew two lines, one along the “front” of the bag and one along the “back.” When you place the piece on the sewing machine, make sure you’re not sewing your bag shut. Also, remember those lines we drew along the side seams? Don’t sew inside the two-inch zones. They mark where you must STOP sewing and also where you must start sewing. Your needle should never cross these lines. It’s like the rules for riding a public bus! Therefore, you are leaving 2″ holes at the top of the bag and these holes are located at each side seam. Here’s what I mean, from the sewing machine’s perspective:
Step 8: Turn everything right-side out
Now it’s time for the magic. You are basically going to pull the entire bag (first the lining and then the exterior) through one of the 2″ holes you left at the top. Gently reach into the hole with your index finger and start pulling at the lining so the right side comes out of the hole. Once the entire lining is out, keep pulling so the exterior comes out. When you are finished, you will have a huge cylinder with lining and exterior right sides facing you. Tuck the lining back into the exterior and you will have a bag that looks very professional.
Step 9: Sew the shoulder strap
You have four small rectangles left. Sew them together, with right sides facing each other (and wrong sides facing outward), end-to-end. Then, fold the whole piece together length-wise so that, again, the right sides face each other, and sew the length of the seam together. You’ll feel like your sewing machine is a hungry monster and you’re feeding it a long length of fabric:
Turn this long tube right-side out. It takes time and patience, but it’s the same way you turned the drawstring loops right-side out, only a bit longer.
Now, tuck one end of your shoulder strap into one of the holes on your bag (the result of the no-sew zone when you sewed the liner and exterior together). Make sure the seam faces down, which means faces the bag opening. Pin the strap in place and very carefully sew the strap to the bag while at the same time sewing the hole shut. Repeat for the other end of the strap and the other hole on the bag. Make sure you don’t have any loose threads peaking out!
Now all you have to do is thread your cord through the drawstring loops and you’re done.