Sewing: omiyagi (bag)

The omiyagi is a Japanese bag [update: an omiyagi is any gift bag; this is specifically a kinkachu bag] consisting of folded/padded sides forming … gussets? … panels? …  I don’t know what to call them.  When constructed of scrap flannel and other fabrics from my stash left over from making the sea creatures quilt, it is very nicely padded indeed without any need for additional batting.

I did rip it during the final attachment of the top tapes for the draw string, though.  This is the first time I’ve made this design, as well, so there are plenty of mistakes. I think that I would make it larger than I did, as well — maybe with 2″x 8″ strips of cloth instead of the 1.5″x6″ I wound up using. It would fit a bit better under my machine needle that way.

The bag has a double draw-string, so it opens and lies flat or stationary on the table, and doesn’t roll around. It’s not quite large enough for a serious gamer’s dice-bag, but it has an elegant heft to it, even without anything in it.

It is quite small — a young person’s jewelry bag, rather than someone with a large and complex collection.  Or a bag for a precious memento.  Or for a collection of runes or coelbren or other ‘rune-like’ reading systems where stones are drawn out of a bag.  You can get a sense of its scale from the photos where it’s next to a thread spool: maybe 3″ deep, and 5″ around at the mouth.

I learned to make it using this tutorial, but I found that the measurements in cm were not particularly great to try to achieve on my inches-denominated cutting mat. So I scaled to inches, and then did some fussing and estimating along the way.

One of the newer tools/techniques  for me was the button-maker.  A scrap of round fabric is put into a holder; a button face of aluminum is put into the holder on top of the fabric; the fabric edges are put inside the button face; the button back is then pushed down onto the scraps of fabric to make the button.  By matching the fabric of the button to the fabric of the object, you can achieve some really nice results. Here the green-sailed boat becomes the button.  

I have quite a lot more pictures of this design, but largely they’re here to remind me, later, of how I went about making this bag, and how I might use the essentials of this design in the future. For example, I note that by lengthening and widening the strips that form the body of the bag, one could also make an unusual hat — sort of a flared beret or even a crownlike shape similar to the one seen in some icons.  

The bag is assembled, as well, using a series of folds, that go in one direction on the bottom of the bag, but then turn and go in the other direction at the top.  It’s this pattern which allows the flash of blue around the middle of the bag, which can be quite striking when different colors are used, I imagine.

I find myself thinking about a bag where the three color strips used here are transformed into white and black for the middle bands, providing the flash of color around the belly of the bag; then alternating bands of red, yellow, blue and green are used as the elemental colors.  I don’t know what I’d use them for, exactly, but I can see the design in my head.  Why, I’m not necessarily sure. My partner says I’m unnecessarily complicating things, but the notice of the pattern and the working-out-of-the-math and the geometry is also occurring.

The thing I want to make sure to remember is the way in which the bands have to be assembled.  It’s best to assemble them it palettes of three strips of fabric: first the ‘lower fold’ then the flashing color in the belly, and then the ‘upper fold’.  Once you have twelve such palettes, these are then assembled into the ring, and the ring is folded and pinned down to form the folds that act as the bag’s supports and stabilizers — its flying buttresses, if you will. That part of the design is mightily tricky, and I think that I made most of my mistakes in assembly here — other than ripping some of the fabric as I assembled it right at the end (darn!). Primarily, though, it’s important to keep the end in mind as you begin this project.

A lot of it, for me, this time around, was simply following someone else’s directions and improvising a little bit on the sizes as I went.  

I want to highlight that last bit, because I think it’s critically important.  I improvised a bit on sizes of fabric bits as I went.  This “fabric stuff” is not an exact science. Well, sometimes it is… but sometimes it isn’t.  It’s tempting to think, “well — centimeters are centimeters and inches are inches, and conversions and ratios and blah de blah blah blah.”  Let go of some of this fanaticism about the size and shapes of the pieces of fabric.  It’s not a lone-star quilt — not every meeting point has to be perfect, and not every strip has to be exactly 1.5″ x 6″… and if you want to adjust the overall size and shape and design of your bag to be larger or smaller, have no fears… I was supposed to need a lining for this that measured 5″x11.75″ or something like that.

Instead, it was 6.5″ x 15.5″. Approximately.

I guessed, I made one too small, and I made another too big, and I found the one that was just right, somewhere in the middle.  There’s this temptation, I think, to present only our best work to the world.  But everyone has to be a beginner sometime.  This was my first time making this bag.  And maybe, just maybe, it’s not so important to “fake it til you make it,” in this work of Making Stuff.  Maybe it’s important to accept the lessons of apprenticeship, both the failures and the not-quite-rights, and the discoveries of learning along the way.

For me, looking backwards through the photos and text, from the finished bag at the top of the screen to the cut strips lying on the table in front of my open tutorial device, I can’t help but think that every apprentice sewist has sat here one time or another, with a project that seemed right at the limits of their abilities and patience.  They’ve produced … workmanlike work.  Not perfect, not necessarily elegant, but a beginning of a learning.

By my own principles, I’ve done well.

  •  1) My hands have learned to make a new thing, which means my mind has too.
  • 2) I’ve worked with both numbers and geometry.
  • 3) I’ve turned flat 2D materials into a 3D finished object.
  • 4) I’ve used tools to make tools or parts to make a complete thing.
  • 5) I’ve turned waste into something useful.  
  • 6) I’ve found some beauty in a thing that I’ve made.
  • 7) I’ve learned to use a new tool that broadens the range of future projects.

There’s not much more an apprentice can ask for.

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