Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sewing a knitting bag

My current sewing project is this knitting tote from Simplicity 4542:

I'm using fabric that's from the "Ugly Fabric" challenge of my sewing guild neighborhood group. A few months ago we put what we considered to be ugly fabric inside a paper bag for a white elephant gift exchange with the goal of making a handbag or tote. I did pretty well as the fabric I "won" isn't exactly ugly - well, maybe not the best choice for a garment, but certainly fine for a handbag or tote. What's the fabric look like, you ask? Ah, photos...I don't know how all the bloggers can add so many photos to their blogs every day. I never seem to find time to do this, so sorry, no photo. I will photograph the final product, if I ever get there. The fabric is navy blue with thin strips of green, red, yellow and white.

The pattern has a zillion pieces but thankfully they're all rectangular in shape. Since my fabric is striped I took the extra time to cut out the pieces on a single layer so as not to wind up with noticeably wonky pieces. There is also lining, so many of the pattern pieces had to be cut out multiple times. I found a suitably matching cotton in my stash to use as the lining - you know you have too much stash when fabric begins to unintentionally match! My fabrics were not very substantial so I decided to use canvas as an interlining. More cutting...

Finally I began to assemble the tote, following the instructions. Big mistake.

Time was I stayed away from Simplicity patterns like the plague. I found their garment patterns fit poorly (make it in 2 hours and easy fit were synonymous with no fit in their case). I found their instructions were lacking, confusing, or erroneous. Lately their designs have improved and I've found myself buying quite a few at the fabric chain store sales. I haven't sewn any...until now.

My first warning with this pattern was that their suggested fabrics included lightweight broadcloth, calico, and gingham, but there is not a hint of interfacing mentioned anywhere. The tote I'm making has two needle roll-ups, for which they do specify "pre-quilted fabric." I'm not sure why, except maybe they thought the padding might protect the needles somehow. I don't have any pre-quilted fabric so I decided that when it came time to make the roll-ups, I might add some thin cotton batting between the layers.

I sat down to sew and right away hit the first question mark. The instructions say to "attach the lining" to the large rectangular back piece. Huh?? I've only made a couple of totes and handbags but all of them had a lining constructed separately from the outside fabric so that the seam allowances are all hidden. These instructions called for basting the outer fabric and lining together on each of the bag pieces. Although I questioned it, I went ahead and did so for the back piece, sandwiching the canvas inside to give it more stability. After basting the handles on, the next step was to add an exterior pocket. I did as instructed and then realized that the pocket wasn't lined. Thinking I must have made a mistake, I looked back over the pattern layout and found that, no, I followed the instructions. No lining for the pocket. They expect the exterior pockets of this tote to be made of one layer of the flimsy broadcloth, calico or gingham and nothing more. I had backed my pocket piece with canvas so it didn't look too bad without lining. Besides, I reasoned that this was ok since I didn't really want it to look all matchy-matchy with the lining and outer fabric. That was as far as I got last night and then I went to bed.

This tote bag was on my mind early this morning when I was trying to get a few more minutes of shuteye - my brain doesn't like to shut off when there are problems to be solved. I got up and looked at the instructions and I simply do not see how, following their instructions, you can avoid having raw seam allowances inside the bag! I thought maybe they expect you to finish all the seams with binding tape, since it calls for binding tape to be used all over the place anyway. But no. I've decided to take apart the piece I started and sew the inside lining separately and then place the lining inside the bag with the seam allowances hidden. The raw edges at the top of the bag are to be bound by the tape anyway, so I think my plan should work. I'm also going to fix that pocket and add another layer of the outer fabric.

I'm angry and disappointed at Simplicity for the poor construction techniques on this pattern. No sewer would be able to duplicate the look of the bags on the cover without adding interfacing (or stuffing the finished product full of paper). Unless I'm totally mistaken in how I interpreted their instructions, the bag would have raw edges on the inside. I've made only a few handbags from patterns and the one thing I found is that you have to trust the pattern. Basic clothing pieces are pretty easy to figure out - you have a front, a back, perhaps two sleeves, maybe a collar...and you almost always sew right sides together. When the instructions have an error, it's often easy to catch. But a handbag can seem to be a complicated mess during construction, especially if it contains inside pouches, zippered pockets, and tabbed closures. You may need to sew a right side to a wrong side or sew something in an awkward manner. I guess I was hoping that this Simplicity pattern would magically come out right in the end. I'm sure glad I didn't get very far along and I'll just need to spend an evening with my friend, the seam ripper, and then figure out the rest of the sewing on my own.

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