Monday, September 3, 2012

The Bella Bag Pattern!

The Bella Bag pattern is ready! You can finally buy it! Thank you all for your patience, support, encouragement, enthusiasm and for holding me accountable.

First, let me tell you what an adventure in procrastination this was. I decided to make this bag in March, right? So I asked Grandma G, my wonderful tester, if she'd be interested in testing a bag pattern for me and she said yes. Lovely. So I was all set. Then, immediately after making Sample #1, I was overcome by the urge to procrastinate. Nothing unusual, since this seems to be my modus operandi anyway. Except I procrastinated by making a completely new pattern - the Lunch Bucket - just to avoid making this one. It is a fact, people - when I am determined to procrastinate, I will stop at nothing to succeed at it, even if it means doubling my workload. So then I had to inform Grandma G that -guess what - she was not going to be making the bag she thought she was going to be making. Imagine her bewilderment when she discovered that she'd been had. Do you remember how I finally decided to get back to this pattern? By procrastinating sewing the dress-for-the-wedding. It seems that I don't get anything done around here unless it's by procrastinating at the expense of something else. Now, by that same rationale, I will probably finish that wedding dress the day before Halloween, just to avoid sewing costumes for the girls.

Just thought you'd like a look inside the mind of someone who's truly and incurably idiotic.

So anyway, let's talk about this pattern by interviewing myself:

Q Who can use it?
I'd say people who are intermediate-ish. You don't need to be advanced. This is not a whip-up project because it has many parts, but it is not difficult. The pattern also has suggestions for ways to simplify the bag further (e.g. omit certain pockets). In addition, I explain a lot of things in this pattern, for example
  • the difference between topstitching and edge-stitching, 
  • the anatomy of a pocket, 
  • the parts of a zipper and how to attach a zipper, 
  • how to construct a lapped zippered pocket, 
  • how to construct a zippered welt pocket, 
  • how to do a hem-facing trim, 
  • how to make and attach piping, 
  • how to insert a base sleeve, 
  • how to make those tubular straps. 
Now, these are features of the Bella Bag but they are also sewing techniques in and of themselves, so I took the liberty to expound on them a bit. I try to write my patterns so that people who use them might learn something new about general sewing techniques in addition to making the bag (or toy) itself.

Here is the list of skills you will need to already have in order to be comfortable with the pattern:
  • Sewing straight seams
  • Sewing curved seams
  • Pressing - to open finished seams and fold in seam allowances
  • Attaching straight edges to curved edges
  • Snipping and notching seam allowances to reduce bulk
  • Topstitching
  • Back-stitching (how to, why and where to use)
  • Basting stitches (with sewing machine)
  • Threading elastic through a fabric casing
  • Attaching a zipper with a zipper foot (instructions will be provided, but previous experience is an advantage) 

Q What special materials and equipment do you need?
No special equipment, other than your sewing machine, its regular presser foot and its zipper foot. You do not need a piping foot.

Here's the materials list (I highlighted in red, the materials I think might be a bit unusual):
  • Home-DEC or similar-weight fabric for outer body and strap (1 yd).
  • Home-DEC or similar-weight fabric for lining and pockets (facing and lining) (1 yd).
  • Craft-weight/medium fusible interfacing (about 1/2 yd of 20” wide or wider).
  • Coordinating cotton/home-DEC weight fabric for pocket facings and accent details: piping, trim, fabric stops etc (about 1/2 - 3/4 yd, depending on usage).
  • Muslin/light cotton fabric for base sleeve, any color (this will be hidden), 14.5” x 16”.
  • One 9" zipper and one 16" zipper
  • Piping cord (about 2.5 yd, 1/4” wide).
  • Drawstring cord (14” long, variable width).
  • One button, about 2" diameter, but not smaller than 1.5”
  • 1/8” piping for trimming outer pockets (1/2 yd) - can be bought from fabric stores or homemade.
  • All-purpose polyester thread in coordinating colors for machine-sewing.
  • Heavy-duty or topstitching thread for attaching the button by hand.
  • Vinyl tubing: 3/8” outer diameter, 18” long; cut into two 9” lengths. This can be bought at hardware stores.
  • Template plastic: 12” x 6” - a 12” x 18” piece from fabric stores can make 3 bags. 
  • Elastic: 2” wide 15 long”; cut into two 7.5” lengths. Stiffer elastic gives better results. 
  • Sticky tape for assembling template pieces. 
The pattern offers alternatives and substitutions for some of these materials.

Q Details, details - how many pages? What about photos? Are there templates?
There are 36 pages to this pattern - 1 cover page, 4 pages of full-size templates and 31 pages of instructions. There are about 70 full-color instructional photos and 12 hand-drawn illustrations. In addition to the templates, there are also instructions and dimensions for you to cut out the other required pieces, which are simple rectangles.

The file is about 18 MB. The pattern costs $12.

Q How big is the Bella Bag?
It is 15" wide, 13.5" high and 7" deep. The straps are 20" long.

Q And it's a pdf pattern, so the postman delivers it to my mailbox along with my bills and election flyers in 3-5 business days, right? Just like amazon?
SCREAM! NO! It's an instant pdf pattern so you get an email seconds after paying for it via paypal. The email contains a link which you click on to download the pattern file to your computer. The link has an expiration date so it's best to download it within a day or two after buying it. The link will also only work once, to prevent fraudulent downloads. If your computer hangs or the download crashes while downloading, clicking the link again will result in an error message, in which case simply email me and I'll either reactivate the link for you or get you the file some other way. Just make sure that

  • you have decent internet speed (avoid dial-up modems),
  • you have adobe reader or some other program that allows you to read pdf documents,
  • you have a printer to print out the pattern.

You can read more of the technical stuff on this post about the Lunch Bucket Pattern or on the Patterns For Sale Page.

Just one more thing to say about this pattern. I mentioned that the pattern includes suggestions for variations on the design. This includes fabric choices - I've used as few as two or three in this bag

and as many as 13 in this one.

The pattern also suggests two different strap positions:

I tried out both positions while making my sample bags and I personally prefer the straps in position B. The photos in the pattern demonstrate position A but there are instructions for both in the pattern, so you can pick whichever you like.

Q Quit stalling already and tell us how to buy the pattern!
Okay, okay! Go to the Patterns For Sale Page and locate the Bella Bag pattern. Click on "Buy The Pattern" to go directly to the shopping cart page.

Now go over to see Grandma G's absolutely perfect Fireworks Bella Bag and read her review of the alpha version of this pattern.

In a couple of days I am going to have all the Bella Bags - including the Fireworks Bella Bag - listed in the shop. After looking into fees and other things, I've decided not to host the auction for the Orla Kiely Stem bag on ebay after all. I'll run a silent auction manually on etsy instead. More details to come in a later post. I've also received some pre-listing offers by email for some of those Bella Bags but as I hadn't decided on the specifics of the price/shipping/sale-vs-auction option, I haven't responded to any of you. I feel bad about people rushing to or stalking the store just to snag the bags because there will be some of you in some parts of the world who will be asleep (and thus disadvantaged) when the listings go live. I'll address this in that later post, too. 

Again, thank you for your interest, patience and support through all these months of pattern-writing, sample-sewing and testing. I hope the wait has been worth it!


  1. Ahh... we had fun procrastinating, didn't we?! Hey, you can't take all the credit for that!

    I love your pattern, and I love procr... er... working with you! I hope you sell a ton of these patterns and we see a lot of Bella Bags... in your Flickr group and wherever!

  2. I have been stalking your blog for this!

    Curious to hear the details for bag sales.

  3. Your bag is simply beautiful. (Especially your color choices!) I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to buy, and then make, your pattern. I sew, but it was a little intimidating until I read your description and Grandma G's post about it. She raved about your step-by-step instructions and very clear photos, and I feel much more confident that I could actually have a Bella Bag by Christmas. :) Congratulations on a project finally finished. I hope you sell out like crazy!

  4. I have enjoyed following the Bella bag. It is one stunning and very lovely bag. Hope the pattern and the bags sell well! I am most glad you made one for yourself!

  5. Out of curiosity, what do you mean by template plastic? Is it what I call plastic canvas, that plastic grid stuff? That's what I use for the bottoms of bags - it's stiff enough to hold up to the weight of something like an iPad, but lightweight and easy to work with.

    1. Hi Anna. No, template plastic is not the same as plastic canvas. Template plastic is thin, translucent plastic that people use for cutting templates out of, so they can trace around them and still see through them for positioning. You can buy it in the quilting section of any fabric store. It's a little more expensive than plastic canvas, but it is nicer to work with and infinitely easier to because it's softer while still giving support. All that said, you can also use plastic canvas (and the pattern lists that as an alternative to template plastic), although because it is more rigid, may not turn out through the opening in the lining as easily as the template plastic.

  6. Can you show us how you did the reverse applique on the gray bag? I love that one! I've bought the pattern and I'm trying to figure out what fabric to order...but I just keep thinking about that grey/blue one... I might have to try my hand at one like that.

    1. Adventure knitter: Yes - here's an old post on reverse applique (scroll down to the end of the post):

  7. what size zippers do we need...that isn't mentioned on the materials list

    1. Ooops. Thanks. You'll need one 9" and one 16" zipper.

  8. I have been waiting and waiting for this pattern. Now that I read the blog post, I'm a BIT intimidated and I consider myself an experienced bag maker. I'll definitely be sitting down w/ the instructions and studying them and ordering supplies. This would make a WONDERFUL b-day present for myself. Thanks for the awesome pattern!

  9. I just ordered your pattern and it looks really great! I'm positive that I will have finished the 1billion steps by christmas ;)
    I love that you included alternate ways for many steps, this way everyone can adapt the pattern to his/ her needs.
    Unfortunately I live in a very rainy area. Do you think I could use laminated cotton for the outer fabric or would it ruin the elastic panel?
    Thanks for this great pattern and your advice!

    1. Jenny, I can think of two things to do:
      1 Make the bag out of regular fabric and spray the outside with Scotch Gard. It won't make it waterproof, but it will protect it somewhat.

      2 Try making a sample elastic panel with the laminated cotton before cutting out the entire bag. Cut a 16" x 4" piece of laminated cotton and another in the lining fabric. Place them together in a double layer and sew two parallel lines along their lengths, about 2.5" apart to make an elastic channel for your 2" elastic. Then thread the elastic into the channel and make the elastic panel as the pattern suggests. Then see if you like how it looks (or not).

  10. I guess this bag made an impression on me because I actually had a dream that I was shopping and saw a whole table of them in a store. I instantly recognized them from your blog and got out my phone to take a picture of them to send you and got yelled at by a mean store employee. Ha!

  11. I really love this bag design. My go-to-bag is from Overland. It has two exterior pockets for drink bottles which I love. The problem with the bag was that is not wide enough to fit my Kindle Fire with other things like my camera, keys, and glasses. The overland bag is not really dressy for the office either. I was thinking the Bella Bag would be a great alternative. However, I have never sewn a bag. I focus most of my time sewing on kid's clothes. I was wondering if this bag could handle one adjustable strap so it could be worn as a sling or messenger bags on the weekend trips to Disney. What do you think?

    1. Tiffany: I'd say that a single strap might work if it were tapered. So narrower towards the shoulder (where it sits) and wider at the ends where they meet the gusset of the bag. This is a wide bag (7" at the gusset) and if you made the strap wide enough to support the width of the bag, it would be too wide to sit on the shoulder. If you made it narrow enough to sit on the shoulder, it would be too skinny at the gusset.

  12. Love this bag and really want to make it with the main fabric you used in the picture of the bag with 13 different fabrics, the fabric that looks like a vine with multi colored bags.

  13. Hi I live this bag and can't wait to make it, I really like the fabric you used in the bag with 13 different fabrics. The fabric that looks like a vine with multi colored leaves is fabulous do you have information on that. I would like to use that fabric as my main and use some of the billions of fabrics and scraps I have for the coordinates and contrasts. Thanks!


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.