A very useful bag

Years ago, just after I started sewing in a big way, I bought a chunk of beautiful leather from The Fabric Store. It was blush pink, and embossed with an Art Nouveau style pattern, and I loved it immediately! It sat in my sewing room ever since, because I had no idea what to do with it and I was too scared to cut into it. It was too heavy for a garment, and there wasn’t enough of it anyway. I had a bag in mind from the beginning,  but I wasn’t sure what sort of bag, or how easy it would be to sew a complicated shape with my Bernina, so it just languished…until I saw pictures over on Instagram  of the Genoa Tote pattern that Blogless Anna was developing!


I’ve tried to make tote bags before, but I seem to find it really hard to get the proportions right, and I’m just too lazy (and time poor) to put too much effort into trying to get it right on my own. I really liked all the little details included in the Genoa Tote pattern, so I was pretty keen to get my hands on it! I did have to do a few things differently to compensate for the thickness of my leather (the pattern is designed for canvas or denim, but why make things easy?), which I’ll talk about later.


I made the medium sized bag, and I really like the size. It’s plenty big enough for me to lug around all of my rubbish! These pictures were taken last Saturday (the same day as my Heather dress pictures, obviously), and I had a pair of sensible shoes in there just in case there was another decent earthquake and I needed to move quickly or walk back home, as well as my cardigan and all of my other assorted crap.


The pocket is a good size as well (though my one is smaller than the pattern intends, as I bought a too-short zipper accidentally), big enough for the four or five lipsticks I seem to need to have with me at all times, as well as my train ticket and my headphones. I could get my phone in there as well, at a squeeze, but I tend to keep that in my pocket anyway!

The key clip is my favourite part, I can never ever find my keys in my bag. I would definitely be the girl in the horror film who makes it to her front door/car and then gets caught because her keys were hidden in a secret pocket in her bag that she had never seen before. Having them hanging there is brilliant, but they are a bit noisy bumping around up near the top. I suppose next time I could make the fabric loop longer so that the keys sit further down, but it’s really not a problem.

Isn’t that lining awesome? I bought it from the Fabric Warehouse sale shop earlier in the year, I couldn’t go past the pink and gold flamingos even though I had no idea what I’d do with quilting cotton! Bag lining is the obvious answer.


Sewing the leather was a bit tricky, as you would expect. I used a leather needle, and some thick upholstery thread in the bobbin as well as for my upper thread. For the most part, my vintage Bernina managed to sew the leather beautifully, though I did need to hand crank the needle through any patches that were thicker than two layers (and especially over the bits at the corners where there were four layers of leather because of the seam allowances…). I also found the seam allowances difficult to manage, I just couldn’t get them flat. I tried hammering them, I tried ironing them, I tried getting them a bit damp and squashing them flat with heavy things. Nothing worked as well as I wanted, and it just looked a bit sad with the seam allowances not flat! in the end, I used a contact adhesive to glue them all flat. this worked beautifully, but was so messy! I glued myself to nearly everything in my sewing room, and Zelda was way too interested in what was going on for her health and safely…

To compensate for the thickness of the leather I made one major change to the pattern, and merged the facing pattern piece with the top edge of the bag piece. I just didn’t want to deal with the thickness of that seam allowance along the top edge, and removing the seam all together was easy enough. I used more glue to keep the facing nice and flat against the inside of the bag. I also overlapped the facing and the lining pieces and sewed them together rather than sewing them right sides together, again just to combat bulk. The leather isn’t going to fray along the cut edge (obviously), so I’m quite happy with the raw edge being exposed.


I bought my vegetable tanned leather handles from Etsy, though I’ve since got some from Lapco in New Zealand. I didn’t put the leather patches behind the handles as instructed, as again I just didn’t need the extra thickness! These handles are the shorter, wider straps described in the pattern. I did have some lovely gold toned rivets that I wanted to use, to match the other gold hardware, but they were too short. I thought that having ‘antique brass’ toned ones was a better option than the handle falling off when I was out and about! I’ve definitely noticed changes to the colour of the handles since I’ve been using the bag, they’ve become darker and shinier and got quite marked in the rain, but I quite like how they’re ageing already. The best part is that I can always replace them if they get too worn out.


I love my new bag! I had it finished in time to take it over to Melbourne, and it was perfect for stashing shopping in, as well as the several layers I needed to have with me just in case of a random weather change…

Thanks for all your good wishes after my last post! We’re still getting woken up by some fairly wobbly aftershocks, and they’re starting to demolish the buildings in the Wellington CBD which have been red-stickered, but things are starting to get back to normal (here, anyway. It’ll be a long time before Kaikōura and parts of Northern Canterbury are back to normal, unfortunately).

Rainy day bag


A few weeks ago (possibly a few months, now that I think about it…)I found this awesome Orla Keely laminated cotton at the Fabric Store, and knew it was destined to become a tote bag! Then I got distracted by other projects, and it languished in the corner of my sewing room until last weekend. Its been really rainy for the past few weeks, and I decided that I was sick of my stuff getting wet through the calico bag I use to lug my stuff to and from work.


The laminated cotton is quite stiff, and much thicker than what I’m used to sewing with, but my sewing machine battled on and managed pretty well! I thought the 60’s print on the fabric matched my 1960’s sewing machine beautifully as well, very important! After battling with the first seam, I put the table extension on the free arm, which really helped get the fabric through without rippling. I’ve never used the extension before, but maybe I should try it more often! I also used the longest stitch length, and sewed really slowly. Even then, the feed dogs would slip occasionally, and I’d get a run of very short stitches before I pushed the fabric through! This was worse when sewing the hem around the top, the slippery laminated surface of the fabric obviously provided less traction for the feed dogs.


The pattern placement caused me some trouble, as I really wanted to match the pattern down the side seams! In the end I realised that it just wasn’t going to work, the bag would end up too big or too small if I based it on pattern placement alone! Instead I ended up with matched circles down the sides, which I really like. I also sewed across the bottom corners of the bag, perpendicular to the bottom seam, so that it could sit flat and so that I can cram more into it! I cut a rectangle of the left over fabric the same size as the base and superglued it over the bottom seam, to add some reinforcement (I really do pack my bags to the brim) and to make the bottom seamline water proof in case I put it down in a puddle or something stupid.


I also used some of the scraps to make myself a cover for my snapper card (Wellington central bus travel card, like an Oyster card but much less useful as it doesn’t work on the trains. I really don’t know why its called a Snapper)
My beloved ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ cover, bought in London two years ago, finally gave up and died! I just cut two rectangles and sewed them together using a reverse french seam (wrong sides together, sew, trim seam right back, flip inside out, sew again). Folding it inside out was a right mission!


And one last picture, for scale…


I’m pretty proud of my first bag, even if it was a really simple one! I’m glad its waterproof, and it’ll be a good beach bag when summer comes around. I’m feeling better about sewing my lovely leather now that I’ve tried this, as the laminated cotton is much stiffer and thicker than that!