Sunday, 12 May 2013

"Easy Summer Living" Bags

I have been having a bit of a clear out of my fabric stash - basically because the lids on my boxes wouldn't close and in fact are beginning, literally, to crack up under the strain! I am a bit of a hoarder of printed fabric and tend to buy bits of this or that, when I can afford it, just because, well, you never know, and if I don't buy them when I spot them and go back subsequently, having decided I must acquire whatever print it is that has caught my eye, nine times out of ten, it's gone with the wind and any inquiry about it, is a cue for hearing those depressing words, "No, we won't be getting any more in.".

The good news about this hoarding habit is that there is usually something to draw on for a particular project (so long as not too much of any one fabric is needed); the bad news is that there's quite a lot of fabric that sits around not being used because its destiny hasn't (yet) come up! So I have been thinning it out a bit, with some happy results, I have to say.

My first foray into "thinning out", married some fabric from my stash with some fabulous prints which a dear friend in Tennessee sent me. The result of this is, although I say it myself, a rather gorgeous gipsy skirt, which is nearly, but not quite, finished. I'll show you when it is - clearly 2013 is the year when my hippy tendencies are emerging Big Time because my gipsy skirt has a beautifully vintage 1970s vibe about it, to join my other recent makes of my All The Time In The World Blouse and my Jeans For The Golden Road To Samarkand.

My second "thinning out" has resulted in some straightforward, but nonetheless pleasing, bags using some leftover Japanese Kokka Echino print fabric for the outsides and assorted flowery prints for the linings - mostly some Tanya Whelan Sugar Hill "Scattered Roses" in pale lemon, pink and green with a touch of light blue and some John Louden "English Florals" in mixed reds, pinks, greens and oranges.

Bags like these are very easy to make and I find them very useful. The Japanese Kokka Echino print fabric is perfect for bag-making because it's a lovely linen / cotton mix which is a bit heavier than plain cotton and so is nice and robust, while still pretty. I love the colours - those bright greens, violets, pinks and oranges mixed with slightly milky turquoise against the natural linen-coloured background are very summery and the woodcut-effect birds and flowers have a lightness and energy to them that is very appealing.

My design is for a biggish bag, but not too big, the finished measurements are about 17" by 16" / 45cm by 40cm, so almost, but not quite, square, with a nice boxy bottom and a useful inside pocket with compartments for the essentials of life - crochet hooks, tea bags, scissors, 'phone, car keys etc.

I find this sort of size of bag particularly useful in the unpredictable and flighty English summer. Big enough to carry a spare cardigan for when that blissfully clear, summer day suddenly turns cloudy and a sharp little breeze takes the edge off sitting dreamily outside in the sun; accommodating enough to store the same cardigan when another grey, rather damp day suddenly lifts, the sun springs out and a layer or two needs to be shed with immediate effect; robust enough to house an impromptu picnic, a portable hooky project, a bundle of work papers and several heavy bunches of large keys; light enough not to be cumbersome when I'm walking cross-country; capacious enough to take a spare pair of flip-flops for when I'm not walking cross-country; flexible enough to shove under a chair, in the boot of my car, on the kitchen work-surface; and as well as all the above, user-friendly enough to go happily in and out of the washing machine when my bar of chocolate melts at the bottom of it, my flask of tea spills in it or my fountain pen leaks on it.

This is a bag for easy summer living and I've made five in total.

One is a present for a friend, one I am already using, (hot off the sewing machine!), and three are looking for happy homes. Anyone interested? If you are, leave me a comment and, (if there are more than three of you), I'll draw names out of a hat at the end of the week.

I'll send anywhere in the world so long as you are happy to email me your postal address and can give a bag a happy home, even if you live somewhere where the summer is less fickle than here in the UK! These are not factory-perfect bags - they have the odd little quirkiness that goes with "handmade, homemade" but I hope some of you might enjoy using them. See what you think from the pics.

Or of course you might prefer to make your own version with your own choice of fabrics rather than mine. If so, here's my design and a few instructions to help you along the way should you need it. You need about a yard / a metre of fabric for the outside and the same again for the lining but don't forget you can always piece smaller bits together to make a lining, if you have some small left-overs from another sewing project. No one will see on the inside. The same thing applies to the straps if you are short of fabric.

The bag itself is a doddle to sew but it's worth taking time over drawing out the pattern to get a good finish. The pattern I drew up is this one below and it includes standard 5/8" / 1.5cm seam allowances so you don't need to worry about adding these on to the measurements I've given here. I tend to work in inches when sewing, I am afraid, but I've given the metric equivalents for those of you who prefer that.

I originally wanted to scan the pattern I drew out by hand, but my printer decided it wouldn't cooperate so I've had to draw this out on the computer which was trickier than I thought, not least the insertion into the blog post via a screen shot which was the only way I could make it stay where it was put! It's not to scale as you can see, but it does make clear what you need, I hope!

The square cut-outs in the corners aren't essential but take the guesswork out of achieving a nice neat boxy bottom for your bag so I think it's worth drawing them and cutting them like this.

It doesn't matter where you place the notches on the bag sides but the notches on the boxy cut-outs in the corners should be placed exactly half-way along each indentation, as shown, to work properly.

Once you've drawn out your pattern pieces on some scrap paper - a bright felt pen and some newspaper do nicely - let's get cutting! (Happy Snippers Of The World Unite! Tee hee!)

You need to cut four pieces of the main bag pattern piece, two in your outer fabric and two in your lining fabric. In addition, cut two pieces of the pocket pattern piece, one in your outer fabric and one in your lining fabric. You also need to cut two straps, one for each bag side. Mine started off as two strips of fabric 28" / 71cm long by about 4.5" / 12cm wide but you can make them shorter and a bit narrower if you want. Don't make them too narrow or they will drive you mad when you come to turn them out!

OK? Now you're ready to sew, so crank up your sewing machine with some thread to match or tone with your fabrics and, while you are at it, switch the iron on, so that it will be good and hot, when you come to press the seams you're about to sew.

Take your two pocket pieces and pin them together, matching the edges and with right sides facing. Stitch along each of the four sides leaving a gap for turning in the bottom long edge. Clip off the corners of the seam allowances and turn the right way out using a wooden knitting needle or similar gently to poke out the corners. Press.

Now line the pocket piece up on the right side of one of your lining pieces it should sit about 4.5" / 10cm below the top edge and central between the two side edges. Pin in place and then top stitch along the sides and bottom edge, (not along the top obviously, or it will be a patch not a pocket!) You can now make little compartments in your pockets if you want to - I made some for crochet hooks on-the-go and a couple of slightly larger ones for other stuff. Just draw the lines where you want the divisions to come on the pocket, with tailor's chalk and a ruler, or mark with pins, then topstitch through the pocket and lining fabric, to make compartments to suit your particular needs. Pull through any threads to the wrong side of the lining piece and knot neatly to secure.

Place the outer fabric pieces of the bag together, right sides together, matching edges and side notches. Don't worry about the corners at this stage. Pin along the sides and the bottom edge, leaving the corners flapping gappily! Stitch. Do exactly the same with the lining pieces.

Press each of the sewn seams flat and open.

Fold the right side of the fabric towards the wrong side in a 5/8"/1.5 cm seam allowance along the top edge of the lining and the outer bag. Press.

Now for those boxy corners. What you want to do is to match up the notches in a neat line across the bottom of the bag / lining, aligning the opened out and pressed ends of the side seams with those of the bottom seam. This is much easier to demonstrate than to write instructions for! Your little notches should match in pairs as in my pic. Pin and then stitch across.

See?! You've now got a lovely squared-off boxy bottom!

Nearly there now! Insert the lining into the outer bag with the wrong sides of the fabric facing one another. Pin the top edge of the lining and the bag together but don't sew yet because we're going to sandwich the strap ends between the layers.

OK, time for the straps. Take your strips of fabric and and fold each one lengthways, right sides together and stitch with a 1/4" / 0.5cm seam allowance. Press the seam flat with the wrong side of the fabric still facing outwards as in the pic below. (Pressing them first, the wrong way out, makes it easier to get a neat finish in the turned out straps.)

Now for the tricky task of turning the straps the right way out. Be patient with this - they will come out but it's fiddly and takes a little time. A wooden knitting needle, judiciously applied can help but go gently, you don't want to pierce the fabric (or jam it into an impenetrable knot, as Mrs T tends to, when she gets  impatient!) Gentle and patient teasing out is the answer. Once you've got the straps turned out, press them again and insert the ends between the lining and the outer fabric of the bag about 4.5" / 12cm from each side seam and with about 5-6" / 13-15cm between each pair of handles. Each end should be inserted about 1.5" / 4cm below the top edge. Pin securely.

Now for the final stretch! Topstitch all the way round the top edge of the bag, nice and close to the edge. Finally stitch a criss-crossed box shape over each strap end that is sandwiched, neatly hidden between the layers of fabric, as I've done in the pic. This makes a good secure bond between the handles and the rest of the bag.

You have to feel where the ends of the straps are through the fabric but it's not difficult - mark the limit of the strap end with a pin if that helps. This method makes a nice neat finish on the inside with no raw edges of the straps showing, which I rather like.

Your bag is finished! Pull through and knot the loose threads neatly, snipping off the ends to tidy up; fill your bag and head out for whatever your summer day holds.

Going to be a scorcher? Add a bottle of water, a sunhat and a change of shoes for cool feet when your morning shoes become unbearably hot.

Threatens to rain? Pop in an umbrella or a cagoule.

Work beckons? Pile in your papers, a diary and a clutch of pens along with a pick-up-put-down little hooky project for those few, spare minutes between meetings.

A day free to go exploring or shopping? Stash away a quick picnic, a flask of tea and a book and leave plenty of room for loot!

And if you're like me and prone to feel chilly, don't forget, always to carry, that very English garment, a cardigan, without which Mrs T rarely ventures forth, although, hopefully, does not always have to wear!

Don't forget to leave me a comment if you'd like one of my Kokka Echino print bags - and let me know which you'd like best,

Kokka Echino "Flap Border Green"?

Kokka Echino "Perch Stripe Pink"?

or Kokka Echino "Perch Stripe Green"?

They're offered by way of a little thank you to all of you who read here. I appreciate your visits so very much and whether or not you'd like a bag, I send you a huge thank you for visiting, reading, following and taking the time to comment.

with love 
from Mrs T


  1. These are precious! I wish I could sew. I have a love/ hate relationship with the sewing machine. I have loved trying to sew; and it hates me.

  2. Love the bags! My favorite is the green stripe. I just wish I had more room in my house to make sewing easier

  3. Dear E
    Oooh, ooh, ooh (squeals of excitement!) - Pleeease enter me for the chance to win one of your GORGEOUS bags! I think they are all equally lovely, so don't have a preference. However, if I'm not a lucky winner, your tutorial looks so friendly that even a beginner like me could follow it and I shall have a go!
    In the meantime, I shall keep my fingers crossed!
    Best wishes

  4. Oooh Mrs T your bags are beautiful! I love the 'Perch Stripe Pink', it is gorgeous! Fingers crossed! xxx

  5. Beautiful bags Elizabeth........who could possibly resist such loveliness. I'm a hoarder of pretty fabrics too, I have a slightly different approach to my ever growing pile of almost too nice to use fabric..........I find myself holding off from using them as I think they are far too pretty to cut into...........I think your lovely bags may have convinced me otherwise..........the bag with the pink spotty handles, sweet little birds and fabric flower is particularly desirable I think.

    Kim xx

  6. These are beautiful, Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing your pattern. My fabric stash is reaching shameful proportions - the fabric drawer has to be hip-bumped shut quite forcefully - and I really need to start work on something, and this project looks perfect (and easy, which I like!!). So I'll leave the giveaway to others and have a go at making my own, if that's ok. :-)

    Gillian xx

  7. What gorgeous summery bags and a fab tutorial! I feel that I've already benefitted a little from your fabric destash (and they are now waiting for their destiny to reveal itself!) so will leave the giveaway open to others, but did want to comment on your beautiful bags! Hope you're well, Sx

  8. I came across your site via Lucy at Attic 24 and I love this bag - I only took up crochet 2 yrs ago (at age 59). This bag looks perfect to keep crochet in and then I could just grab it and go. At present if I need to take it out it is all thrown into a carrier bag and once I nearly lost my favourite hook as it fell out of a hole in the bottom (luckily disaster averted). I love the colours and everything about your bags. You never know you might even inspire me to take up sewing. Now that really would shock the family - they are still bemused by my crochet.

    1. Dear Mags
      Please get in touch with me via my email with your address. You've won a bag! The winners were posted in my last post but one but I haven't heard from you and can't find an alternative way of contacting you! E x

  9. What lovely bags! I came across your blog via Barefoot Crofter today and will be signing up to follow you. x

  10. Oh you are so sweet and talented! I love them all. Maybe the pink stripe the best.


  11. You clearly, and unfairly seem to have more than the allotted 24 hours per day that the rest of us have to play with! These are lovely Elizabeth, and the green and orange one is so 'my colours' ha ha. They are, of course, fabulous and finished to the same stunning standard as all your handmade items.
    I loved your previous post on the crochet patches too, by the way, just never got round to commenting.

  12. Wow these bags are gorgeous my inner hippy is hopping up and down with glee at the sight of them, I love them all the fabrics sooo lovely, if I had to pick a favourite and it's hard to choose I'd say I live the 'Perch Stripe Pink. The perfect bag for stashing knitting and crochet and also mandolin and guitar music, I'd love to be included in your giveaway.

  13. Just look at your wonderfully neat stitching! What I should, of course, do is use your measurements and make inroads into my own bulging plastic boxes. But they contain no Echino, which I adore, particularly the orangey greeny one. I have banned myself from future stash enhancement, until I've used up some yardage. But finished handy tote bags don't count, do they?

  14. Beautiful! Please enter me! I go away on my hollibobs on Friday but return on 31st. You are very inspirational. If I don't get lucky, I will try and make one but I'm sure it won't be a patch on yours.;-)

  15. They are gorgeous! Thanks for the tutorial, your way of finishing the corners seems a little neater than the one I've been using, I think I see a project with my vintage sheets coming on.
    I'd love the chance to win one of your beautiful bags, to be honest I'd love any one of them but the flap border one is my favourite

  16. Dear E - Please, please, please don't tell me I'm too late! Only just saw your latest post and so wanted to enter the 'draw' for one of your stunning bags!!! I know I could make one of my own but it would probably fall apart as I crossed the street sending all my bits, bobs and general paraphernalia flying everywhere!!!!! Not a pretty sight! Please pop my name in the hat.... Much love. xxx

  17. Your bags are truly gorgeous Mrs T! I love them all - and a great tutorial too, thank you. Lucy x

  18. Thank you for sharing, they are great! :) x

  19. Will you remember summer 2013 as the year you went hippy? Is this is a prelude to a hot, barefoot summer? I do hope so.
    Your bags are beautiful and I love the fabric but it would be unfair to be entered in the draw, because (a) I have (and regularly use) one of your immensely practical aprons and (b) because my mother makes and gives away so many bags that I used the last one to store all the bags she'd previously given me. That's the problem with handmade - they last a very long time. A x

  20. Glorious summer bags! My favourite is the third one, perch stripe green. I certainly hope they do indicate a long hot hippy summer for us all. Thanks for the giveaway chance.

  21. Your bags are really great, and the tutorial is clear and visually appealing. The fabric and your finished products are so cheerful, too. I need to start making inroads into reducing my fabric stash, too, and should really sew up some knitting bags--after I finish the coat that is currently covering a dress dummy taking up space in my dining room.

    Please don't enter me in the contest, as I've already been the recipient of generous gifts from you.

    I'm in the last couple of weeks of my school year, and things have been hectic. I haven't read too many blog posts lately, and know I've probably missed some of yours. I hope to catch up soon.

  22. Love love love those bags, they are absolutely perfect! I so wish I could sew, but I have such difficulty with it. Please enter me into your draw, thankyou! E xx.

  23. Wow what fantastic bags,thanks for the tutorial, I need a few yarn bags and like you my fabric stash needs a reduction. I would love to be entered into your drawing for a chance to win a bag too. Have a great week...Elisa xx

  24. Wow what fantastic bags,thanks for the tutorial, I need a few yarn bags and like you my fabric stash needs a reduction. I would love to be entered into your drawing for a chance to win a bag too. Have a great week...Elisa xx

  25. They are just lovely! How very generous to send them off to your readers! I love any and all please put my name in your hat!! Xxxx

  26. Oh! Those are just beautiful! Thank you so much for the tutorial, I am saving it for when I get a sewing machine (hopeing for one for birthday). I would love to be added to your drawing for one of your pretty bags!

  27. What a gorgeous print - a bag like that would be perfect for carrying my books when I go back to Uni in October

  28. How generous to put those gorgeous bags up for grabs! And for sharing the pattern. I have long admired that Echino pattern (and fear I may have been too slow on committing to buy it!)! Gorgeous. I am crossing everything!! x

    1. Dear Caroline Please get in touch with me via my email with your address. You've won a bag! The winners were posted in my last post but one but I haven't heard from you and can't find an alternative way of contacting you! E x

  29. Elizabeth as usual you come up trumps - lovely amazing bags - I hesitate to put my nme down as I don't want to appear greedy but theses are truly lovely . To be honest I would lve any of these but possibly the icing stripe marginally has the edge. You really are verybtalented and your blog is always a joy to read. Much love - Nikkix

  30. So sorry must adjuslast glasses when typing - the pink one has the edge and you are very talented

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  32. I love reading your blog. I would love to receive a bag and give it a home in beautiful Seattle

    15 May 2013 06:06

  33. Ooh they are gorgeous-you are very talented.Any one of them would be lovely to take out and about here in France in the summer....whenever it decides to arrive ! Difficult to choose,but I think that the "Perch Stripe Green" wins by the narrowest of margins - that said,I'd be happy to own any of them...thankyou for the chance.

  34. Your bags are absolutely darling! The fabrics are unique in the Japanese prints. Do you use fabric for your Japanese buys?

    The tutorial is excellent. Thank you.

  35. Beautiful bags, so summery! The green stripe is my fav! I often pop by your blog to enjoy a catch-up.

  36. How kind of you to offer these beautiful birdy bags to all of us. I love all bird printed textiles so would be happy with any bag if my name should be pulled out of the virtual hat. Thank you also for the easy to follow pattern and instructions. Good luck everybody :-)

  37. Love this project, especially the little bells! Do they make a tiny jingle as you walk? Most especially love your writing. It transports me -- in this case-- to a whole 'nother time and continent. If you have/or ever do write a book, I surely would love to read it:)

    1. Actually this comment went with your previous post -- oops! -- but I love these bags, too. Part of the appeal to me is thinking what adventures they might be carried off to. I am very impressed with your graphic. I have not yet learned to do that on my computer, but I see that it could be useful.

  38. Hi Elizabeth, I am very behind in my blog reading but I have to say its always a treat when visiting your blog. Obviously I've missed the boat on the bags but I wanted to tell you how beautiful they are. Such a feast for the eyes, I do LOVE echino fabric. I hope some day to follow this tutorial as I love the look of these bags and you have explained it all well. Your posts are always so detailed and humorous and well just plain lovely. Just felt the need to tell you how wonderful you are - You are Wonderful! And very generous and kind.

    Take care
    Helen xx


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.