Sewing: small bag

One of the smallest units of useful fabric that you can buy is called a Fat Quarter.  It’s usually a half-yard long, and half the width of the fabric. This usually makes it 18″x22″, although sometimes you get badly-cut Fat Quarters that measure less than that, and are more or less 18″ square.

A Fat Quarter is still useful.  They cost somewhere between $1.50 and $3.00 US; sometimes specialty prints like batiks are $3.50. And yet a Fat Quarter is a great place to experiment or to learn new techniques for sewing.  Like this bag.

I went looking for a tutorial on how to turn a Fat Quarter into a bag.  I have a lot of Fat Quarters right now, and I’d like to make bags to put Christmas presents in (and give as part of the Christmas present, because reusable gifts rock, and they also act as a kind of free advertising (“Who made this? It’s so cute!” “Oh, that’s Andrew from Watermountain Studio.  He makes nice things.”)   The other purpose of a Fat Quarter is a great place to learn new skills around assembling fabric, too.  I learned how to make a gusset, and how to assemble a bag with a lining, from this tutorial.  The resulting bag could be cute… but a reorientation of the fabric could make a bag for a wine bottle, or a wider bag.  And the same techniques for this bag can be used on a larger piece of duck canvas to make actual tote bags for the garden or the grocery store.  It’s a useful thing to learn how to adapt quilters’ techniques from a purse, to a larger range of sewing projects.  Which is really what I’m after.


Sooner or later, though, that tutorial I’ve linked to is going to go away, because the end of Net Neutrality is going to take down a lot. So learn the techniques for this bag now…

First cut two strips of fabric from one Fat Quarter, 4″ x 18″. Fold them in half to 2″ wide, and then fold the outer edges inward to the first fold,.  You’ll now have an 1″ x 18″ strip composed of four layers of fabric.  Top-stitch along both sides, first to seal the seam and then to create some stability and visual interest.  Voila! You’ve made two handles — and you’ve learned a new technique for making strong handles for bags.

Cut and press two more Fat Quarters in half, so that you have 9″ x 22″ pieces.  These are going to be your liner and the outside of the bag.  First sew the handles to the liner fabric.  Then sew the shell fabric to the liner, one line of stitching over each pair of handle ends.  (I should have taken a picture of that — Huh.  There’s one in that tutorial I linked to.) 

And then you’re going to match the two seams, and press them open.  And you’re going to sew down one of the open sides of the bag, a long seam that stitches first the shell to the shell, and then the lining to the lining (not lining to shell — they’re already attached!)

And then you’ll sew the other open side, shell to shell, and then all but three inches (3″) of the lining to lining.

And then you’re going to turn the bag so that the right sides of the fabric are visible.  You’re going to sew that 3″ opening in the lining shut with a top-stitch. And then you’re going to put the bag liner down inside the bag shell, and press the whole.

I’m not sure I have the language to explain the gusset that you make to create the flat bottom of the bag.  In essence, you turn the whole bag inside out, and point the corners where the lining seams meet, and put a line of stitching, like the cross of a t — about one inch (1″) in from the corner of the bag.  That creates the flat square corner that becomes the flat of the bottom.   And it means that the bag can stand on its own.

If you’ve done it correctly, you’ll be able to point your sensors down into the abyss at the bottom of the bag, and say to yourself, “My god — it’s full of stars.”

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