When my children were little I used to LOVE to sew clothing for them. I especially loved sewing for Halloween and Easter. I’d always start planning out my projects months in advance. As my children got older, and didn’t want me to make them Easter dresses anymore, I noticed that I wasn’t sewing as much. Around this same time, on a whim I made a tote bag. The pattern was extra simple and I’m sure I made a million mistakes, but something clicked in my head and I was instantly hooked! I really think that love of bag making is what led to this blog in the first place!
In the years since, I’ve made hundreds of bags and even branched out to create my own line of bag sewing patterns. Over the years I’ve picked up quite a few tricks. I hate nothing more than getting excited about a project, then not have it turn out the way I thought it would in my head. I’m here to help you avoid that feeling when you are sewing tote bags and purses!
Here are 15 of my favorite bag making tips and tricks! If you have a tip of your own be sure to leave it in the comments section so that other people can benefit from your knowledge! (this post contains affiliate links)
1- Use a Walking Foot
Many people associate walking feet for sewing machines with machine quilting, however I find that they are useful for so many other projects besides just making a quilt.
A walking foot is an attachment for your sewing machine that allows the top of the fabric to be fed through the machine the same way that the machine feed dogs move the bottom of the fabric through the machine.
Anytime that you are sewing through multiple layers of fabric (i.e. fabric, fabric linings, interfacing) I recommend using a walking foot if you have one. I especially recommend it if you are top stitching around the top edge of a bag. It helps the fabric to feed more evenly though the machine and gives you a better result overall.
Walking feet are machine specific, be sure to check with your machine’s owners manual to see which one you need.
2- Use Binding Clips
Binding clips are another quilting supply that carries well over to bag making. Many times when you are sewing bags, you are working with multiple layers of fabric. All of those layers can get pretty thick and it may be hard to get a pin through all of it. Additionally if you are sewing with a coated fabric, like an oilcloth you want to avoid pinning the fabric as much as possible.
Binding clips work wonderfully for holding thick layers of fabric together.
These clips are from Clover, come in two sizes, jumbo and regular (pictured) and can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.
3- Trim interfacings to reduce bulk in seam allowances.
It is very important when you are constructing bags to reduce the bulk in the seam allowances. If you have a lot of bulk in your seam allowances then you will not get a smooth finish on the outside of your bag.
I almost always trim my seam allowances down, and trim my interfacings all the way up to the edge of my seam. Before you trim your seam allowance make sure that you are not going to need it later! In the case of my retro travel bag pattern, I trim only the interfacing down (2nd photo above). If I trimmed all of the seam allowance I would not have anything to sew the rest of the bag to! Most of the time the author of the pattern will direct you when it’s a good time to trim down your seam allowance.
4- Clip Curves
If your bag project has a curved seam, you want to clip that seam. I like to cut very small v-shaped notches in the seam allowance along the curve. If you do this be careful not to cut into the seam allowance.
5- Clip and Push out Corners
Just as you want to clip curves on a bag, you also want to clip the corners. I always cut my corners at a 45 degree angle to the corner. I then use a Hera tool or other “pointy” object to push the corner out so that it is nice and crisp. You can purchase a Hera tool on Amazon HERE.
6- Manipulate and shape the fabric using a steam iron.
If you’ve ever taken a quilting class then you know that you DO NOT ever want to distort your fabric or your seams while you are pressing. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s OK to make your fabric move when you’re sewing a bag! Many times after I’m done with a bag it will look lopsided or not quite crisp enough. When this happens I load up my iron with water and steam the bag until I get the shape that I want.
After you’ve sewn your bag the very last step should always be to STEAM it to get all of your fabrics flat and seams crisp.
7- Read all the directions FIRST!
Don’t just start sewing. Take a minute and read all of the directions before you start the bag. You may find that you need to complete extra steps, or do a big of extra prep depending on the fabric or the style of bag that you’re making. You’ll save yourself loads of time and frustration if you just READ it all first.
8- Reinforce snaps and rivets with plastic canvas
This is one of the biggest tips I can give you. Many years ago after I first discovered magnetic snaps, I was adding them to everything. I found however, that over time they poked holes in my fabric. I tried all different kinds of interfacing but still had the same problem!
Then one day I was at the craft store and spotted some plastic canvas. Voila! an idea was born. I tried it and it worked like a charm! I now use it to reinforce bag bottoms, rivets set in straps, and magnetic snaps. Just cut a small square slightly larger than your snap and hide the canvas inside of the bag lining when you are sewing. You can just hand stitch it in place, then remove the stitches after the bag is sewn. I also use plastic canvas to reinforce rivets and bag feet.
9- Cover your presser foot with tape when working with coated fabrics.
If you are making a bag out of a coated fabric like oilcloth or laminate fabric, place a bit of scotch tape on the bottom of your presser foot and it will glide over the top of the fabric with ease!
If you want more tips for sewing with Laminate Fabrics, just CLICK here!
10- Use a Microtex needle
Microtex needles are SUPER sharp and will pierce thorough multiple layers of fabric with ease! I love to use them anytime I’m sewing a bag or working with multiple layers of fabric.
They fit in your machine the same way that your regular sewing machine needles do. You can pick up a pack on Amazon by clicking HERE.
11-Know your Fabrics
Before you start your project, read the directions and see what the pattern author recommends when it comes to fabric type. Do they want a heavy weight fabric? A lightweight cotton? Is the pattern suitable for leather or vinyl?
Most bags can be sewn with mid and lightweight cotton fabrics. Be aware though, if the fabric is too lightweight it will not hold up well when the bag is used, if it’s too heavy it will be too difficult for the machine to stitch together.
Also, make sure the fabric has no stretch. Most all bag patterns are not suitable for stretchy fabrics.
12-Trim polyester zippers to size that are too long
Need a 10″ zipper but only have 16″ zipper? If you’ve got a polyester zipper did you know that you can just cut it to the size that you want? Yep, easy peasy… just do ever try this with a metal zipper and be sure to not un zip the zipper until it’s sewn into the finished bag.
13- Be wary of metal zippers when pressing
Speaking of zippers, if your sewing with metal zippers watch out! They get very hot when they are pressed! Trust me I’ve learned this the hard way.
Also, if you’re looking for a variety of zipper colors and styles for bag making, I get all of my zippers from ZipIT on etsy.
14-Make your own piping by covering some you already have.
If you are sewing a bag, and can not find a color of piping that matches your fabric, just buy a light color and cover it.
Just cut your fabric twice as wide as your piping, and on the bias, and stitch it right over the top of the store bought stuff. Easy peasy!
15- To make sewing straps a breeze, cover cotton webbing with fabric.
Confession, I used to HATE making bag straps. They were just too hard to get straight and I always ended up with a bit of fabric poking out where it was not supposed to.
Then someone told me to just cover cotton webbing with fabric and a light bulb went off. Now I buy cotton webbing in the width I need and cut my fabric to double the width of the fabric plus 3/4″. I then stitch the webbing to the fabric using a 1/4″ seam allowance, flip the fabric over the webbing, fold under the raw edge and stitch down.
If you like making bags, then you may like some of the patterns that I offer in my shop. There are all sizes and types of bags, some are great for beginners and others are perfect if you’re ready to kick up your bag making a notch!