Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Make A Bag Chapter 2: Process And Shape

Welcome to Bag Making Class!

Before we begin, a reminder:
This is my "curriculum". This means that if you want to use it in any way other than reading it here directly or via a link, you will need to ask me if it's okay. Forgive me for maybe flogging a dead horse but this bears repeating and even laying out in excruciating detail so we are all on the same page.

Feel free to do the following - no permission needed:
  • Link to any of these Make A Bag posts from your site, with the purpose of directing people here to read this material on ikatbag first-hand.
  • Link to the entire Make A Bag tutorial series from your site, with the purpose of directing people here to read this material on ikatbag first-hand.
  • Use one or two photos from my posts on your site to feature the Make A Bag series (or individual post), with the purpose of directing people here to read this material on ikatbag first-hand.
  • Pin an image.
  • Tell people about this series in any way - on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, whatever. For that and for any links and shoutouts, I thank you in advance.
If you want to use any other part of the Make A Bag posts e.g. the text, the tutorials, the lists, the diagrams, the photos (beyond the one or two photos you're using for a shoutout), you will need to ask me first. This is not a request; I am telling you. Purposes for which you might want to use my material and for which you need to ask me first include but are not limited to:
  • Extracts for your blog posts
  • Translated into other languages in your blog posts
  • Inclusion in or adaptation for your book
  • Inclusion in adaptation for your e-book
  • Inclusion or adaptation for your course material for a class/blog series/online video course you are conducting
  • Extracts for your publicity material for a class/blog series/online video course you are conducting
  • Your own bag pattern instructions for sale. Let me clarify. You are welcome to use the concepts, lessons and ideas presented in this series to create your own patterns and instructions for sale - this is the reason for which I wrote this series. However, they need to be in your own words, pictures and diagrams, not mine. Linking to my posts within your pattern instructions is also not okay, even with credit to me - when you sell your pattern, people are paying for your expertise, skill and effort, not mine. 
If you have any doubts, just shoot me an email to check. So, now that we've got all that official stuff sorted out, let's begin!

Bags may be classified into many categories. All bags within the same category will have common features. The number and kinds of categories are practically unlimited, depending on what features you choose as your criteria. Color, for example, is an easy categorization system. Here are some other categories:

How the bag is carried:
Short Handles, shoulder straps, wrist straps, no straps, drawstring, etc.

Material it is made of:
Fabric (cloth), leather, vinyl, nylon, etc.

Its generic name:
Suitcase, Handbag, Duffle, Clutch, Coin Purse, Satchel, Backpack/napsack, Pouch, etc.

How it is closed:
Drawstring, buttoned, magnetic snap, hook-and-loop, zippered, tied, flapped, pinch frame, twist frame, etc.

Its Novel and Amazing Function:
Reversible, Morphing, Transforming, 2-in-1, Wallet-cum-suitcase-cum-performing-robot, etc.

These are all valid and true categories. However, they are not sufficient for designing bag patterns. Let's do an experiment. Look at this photo of all the bags we will be making together in this series:

What is the first thing (or things) that came to mind?
I am guessing something like:
  • Whoa! They're all grey! 
  • Some of them have two straps and some have one strap. 
  • How did she get all those polka dots to line up on the white straps? 
  • Is that piping? 
  • My sister has a bag like that topmost one and I've always wondered how that handle was made.
  • I bet that if I used a magnetic snap in place of that button, it'd be more practical.
  • Did she use interfacing? I hope she tells us if she used interfacing. Man, I really should get off my behind and go shopping for interfacing.

If these are similar to your reaction(s), you were focusing on the details. Which is not abnormal in any way. Details are wonderful and all bags should have them, without which they would just be angular sacks of blandness but they are also distracting when you are trying to analyze a bag or design a bag pattern.

Because I'd seen so many bags over the years, my brain eventually started to form mental categories that are independent of those delightful details. These days, the first two things I notice when I look at a bag are
  1. Its size - whether it's a good size for a certain function: carrying all my swimming stuff, toting around my typical harvest of library books; whether it might be a suitable bag for one of my small children; whether it would look good -or if it is too big - as an everyday purse for keys and wallet. If I were to make it at home, what dimensions would I use?
  2. Its structure - is it flat? 3D? How is it 3D - with a gusset? Darts? Pleats? How are the straps attached? 
This takes usually just a few seconds, after which I notice the details - color, material, embroidery, type of straps, workmanship etc.

Suppose you are in a store and see a bag that you want to make at home. If your brain didn't have those mental categories, you'd have to whip out your measuring tape and measure the exact dimensions of each part, make a detailed sketch and take photos from various angles, and then go home, maybe forgetting everything and eventually going online to shop for a bag pattern that looked close enough. The bag pattern might have different dimensions than the bag you saw in the store but you may not realize how big or small 15" x 12" x 27" really is until you make the bag yourself. I've often read patterns reviews like, "I was surprised by the size. It's smaller than I thought." or "I was pleased to find that I could fit my entire kitchen sink in the side pocket of this bag! I didn't realize it was going to be so big. If I made it again, however, I think I'll shrink the pattern." Comments like those often make me chuckle and rhetorically ask: What - you bought a pattern without thinking about whether the dimensions of the bag worked for your needs? Did you just like the fabric it was made of, then? Or the cute shape?  

With mental categories for bag structures, you might find it easier to identify and analyze bags you see. Don't be worried that this might subtract from the wonder and awe of appreciating the beauty of bags in general. On the contrary, they will help you filter out the boring and functional structure of the bag (that you'd otherwise waste brain power trying to remember) and leave only the truly unique details of the bag to which to pay attention. The other reason for having these bag structure categories is for construction sequences. Each category of bag has a standard sequence of construction. Once you know what category of bag you are looking at (and want to make), you'll know how to put it together. 

Hypothetical Situation:
This is how the same Gorgeous Bag might look to two different people, one with absolutely no mental bag structure categories and the other with:

Person A: Without Mental Bag Structure Categories:
"Wow! I love that bag! I hafta make it! Okay, it's about the same size as my Seraphina Tote at home, and it would look great in florals. Hey! Actually I know the perfect fabric for it. It's that new blue-and-white one I just bought at Spotlight. Yeah! I'll need interfacing, of course. Does this one have interfacing? It's so soft. Focus, focus. Okay, so it's that size. Now, it has pockets. Love pockets. So useful. Let's try and remember the pockets. How many? I'd better count. Okay, one pocket outside on the front, has zipper. How is the zipper attached? Um, never mind. I think I can wing it. One pocket inside. Two pockets on either side of the bag. So four. The bag is sort of flat but not 2D. It has a sort of skinny wall that makes it puff out. It has a big button. How big? I think about 2". The base is stiff. It has two straps. They feel stiff. Is this reversible? Hey! I think it is. I'll turn it inside out. Yes! Yes! Score! Oh, wait, it says so on the tag. Yup- reversible. Shoulda just checked first. Drats. I think I might need to write this all down. Where's my iPhone?"

Person B: With Mental Bag Structure Categories:
"Wow! I love that bag! I hafta make it. Okay, let's see..... it's a tote bag. Boxed or gusset? Mmmmmm ...... gusset, about 3". Rounded bottom corners. About...... 15" wide, roughly square. Lined, with base insert. So reversible. Two straps, shoulder-length, seam-inserted in front and back, not on gusset. Fastened by button and loop. Got it. I like how many pockets it has. Four? One, two, three four, yup, four - two side panel, one outside, zippered, back and one inside, patch, back."

Person A was me years ago when I first started noticing bags. Very excited, very filled-with-wonder, very motivated to sew them, but completely overwhelmed by all the details I wanted to remember to include. Person B is me now, able to retain (in fewer words) most of the essential information for reconstructing the bag at home. Note that my mental categories may have very bizarre names (what sort of technique is "seam-inserted in front and back", anyway?) but they make sense to me and I know exactly what to do to recreate that same bag at home. It doesn't matter that you don't know the industry terminology; they're mental categories, remember; no one need ever know the funky names you picked.

My hope in this series is to get you to evolve from Person A to Person B. For that purpose, we'll be making different bags together but they'll all be the same kind: standard tote bags, relatively featureless, the same color, the same dimensions and in easy-to-buy fabric. There will be no pockets, patchwork, cute embroidery, reverse applique or professional-grade materials like leather and vinyl and 600D packcloth (my favorite). This way, we can focus on the structure and the sequence and not be distracted or overwhelmed by the details.

Today's post will give you an overview of the six different categories of bags that I know of. There are others not included in these six because their construction sequence is not typical and much more novel. I will introduce them to you at the end of the series. I will be calling the six kinds of bags "totes", which according to some online definition, is "a large shopping bag to carry around items".

Here they are:

1 Flat Tote

2 Darted Tote

3 Gusseted Tote

4 Wrapped Tote

5 Bucket Tote

Blocked Tote

The subsequent posts will deconstruct and reconstruct each of those six categories in greater detail. For now, let's just introduce the idea of volume (or capacity). All the bags we'll be making will have the same dimensions - they are 7" wide and 6" tall. All the diagrams have no seam allowance - this is to allow you to see how the finished dimensions of the bag correspond to the dimensions of the pattern templates. 

1 Flat Tote
The simplest kind of bag is the Flat Tote. It is literally flat and has no thickness or depth. Whatever volume it seems to gain when it bulges out to accomodate its contents is at the expense of its other dimensions being sucked in. Its pattern is simply two pieces of fabric of the same dimensions as the finished bag. 
Depending on the print of the fabric, you may design the pattern in three ways: 
  1. two pieces
  2. one piece cut on the side fold
  3. one piece cut on the bottom fold

The other five bag types are three-dimensional; they have a thickness, or depth, which in our case is 3".

2 Darted Tote

This is the most commonly-sewn 3D tote bag I've seen on sewing blogs. It is made like a flat tote, but with allowance in the sides and bottom to convert to depth. Therefore, its pattern is exactly like the flat tote, but bigger. In the diagram below, you can see the portions of the pattern that correspond to the parts of the finished bag: the dotted sides and the striped base. And like the flat tote, this pattern can be made in two pieces or one folded piece (which can be folded sidewise, too, but I was lazy and didn't draw that configuration).

The reason I call this a darted tote is because its depth is created by forming darts in flat pieces of fabric. The dark portions of the pattern are the parts that become darts. Don't look so baffled, people. Not all darts are triangular. Darts are anything that pinch the fabric to take in ease. Because these darts make the final bag look like a box, some people call this a boxed tote.

Here is another variation of the darted tote - like the boxed tote, it's in all the sewing blogs . 

Again, it's made with two flat pieces of fabric but with darts angled diagonally from rounded corners. 

3 The Gusseted Tote
gets its thickness/depth from a strip of material, commonly called a gusset, running around its sides and base. Its pattern is two flat pieces and the gusset.

4 The Wrapped Tote
gets its thickness/depth from two end/side pieces, with a bigger piece wrapped around their sides and base.

You might recognize this familiar variation of the Wrapped Tote - the messenger bag/satchel

which is simply the Wrapped Tote with a flap. The pattern is exactly the same as the plain old Wrapped Tote but with extra length for the flap and the top of the bag.

5 The Bucket Tote
For mathematical simplicity, I'm using a circle (not a 7" x 3" oval) for the base of this pattern. This category of bag includes any shape of base, so long as its walls form a tube that connects to the base around its perimeter.


6 The Blocked Tote
I picked this name for this category of bags because there are no continuous pieces that are folded over or around any other pieces - each piece is connected on all its relevant sides by seams, like blocks.

The Blocked Tote is an oddly versatile category because, depending on the sequence of joining the pieces, it can be 

a Gusseted Tote, 

where D+B+E = The Gusset

a Wrapped Tote,

where D and E = the side/end pieces

or a Bucket Tote

where B = the base and 
A+E+C+D = the walls.

Q: Some of these bags are so similar - suppose I want to make a bag, how do I know which kind to make it? Gusseted? Wrapped? Blocked? Are there rules for which to choose?
A: I'd say the most important consideration is where you want the seams to be. It may also depend on the design of the bag and possibly the details, even the print of the fabric. But the seam position is the first consideration. A messenger bag, for instance, can also be made with the Blocked pattern and the Gusseted pattern but you might choose one over the other depending on where you want the seams, perhaps for the inclusion of piping. Or you might want a certain category of bag to most artistically position the pockets within or between the seams. Or for insertion or attachment of the straps using or avoiding the seams. 

Being aware of the structure of the different categories of bags allows you to deconstruct them into standard pattern template shapes and configurations. This in turn helps you make your own patterns - choose the dimensions you want and you're good to go. Having deconstructed these six bags here to show you their structure, we will reconstruct them individually in the following chapters to demonstrate their assembly sequence.

Class Assignment:
Over the next few days, try to classify the bags you see around you into these six categories. Are there any bags that don't seem to fall into these six categories? If so, share links to them (if they are online) in the comments below so we can all see! 

Next up: Straps!


  1. This is great! My blog focuses on my experiences making bags. I am going to link over to you - this will be a great resource for beginners!

  2. Thank you so much for all the information! I appreciate and also undestand your terms of use... have a great day!

  3. Wonderful, wonderful! Thank you!

  4. Excited for straps! That's what I always forget to plan out, so it ends up not being so great.

  5. Wow! What an in depth post! This is going to be a treasure for your children and the online community. Thanks so much for putting it together for us!

  6. Loving this series! I've nominated your blog! Check it out at dressed2atee.blogspot.com

  7. Muy bonitos todos. Estoy encantada de haber conocido este blog. Te tome copiado uno para hacer a una de mis hijas, y le gustó mucho.
    Gracias por compartir.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this series. I love the way you fully explain the process, whether it's bag-making or drafting.

  9. Thank you very much for this series, I have already begun to search for bags to classify them, I never realized most bags/totes fit into only 6 categories.

  10. Muchas gracias, me gusta hacer bolsos, creo que sé algo de este tema, pero siempre se puede aprender más de una maestra. Gracias
    Thank you very much, I like to make bags, I think I know something about this topic, but you can always learn more from a teacher. thanks

  11. Thanks so much for this huge effort you are taking! Much much appreciated! My mouth is watering when i saw that pic of all those grey bags, you made up for this series! A Big thank you, and I can't wait to get to the messenger bag!

  12. Homework completed! I have seen lots of darted bags and way more blocked bags than I would have expected. Looking closer also made me realize that a gusseted bag and a wrap bag are almost the same except the gusset is extra wide and becomes the front. Thanks for making me take a closer look at all things bags! :) I can't wait for the next posts!

    You should totally download all your tutorial series onto Blurb and print it out for you and your girls. What a great resource!

    1. Very astute observation, Leila, on the gusseted-wrapped relationship. Star student! Whoo!

  13. Thank you! I don't usually have a lot to say but I will be here and completing assignments. I love your blogs, tutorials and all things Ikat Bag!! I especially appreciate these in-depth instructionals (I know, it's not a word) that leave very few, if any questions.

  14. Hmm. I made some Flat Totes for my mom a few years back. I did french seams and was ever so proud of the end results. My kids helped with a lot of the sewing.

    My favorite tote (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/p/home-gift-book-tree-sarah-wilkins-green-microfiber-tote-bag/22350336?ean=9781615531981) is darted.

    The little bag I use for my workout gear is a wrapped tote.

    My previous purse is gusseted and is a totally different shape from my current purse which is a gusseted messenger bag.

  15. This is going to be a fantastic series, and I am looking forward to it - one of the things I have hoped to do later this year is to make some new more useful bags. I have thought of a bag style that does not fit into the six categories, I have seen a bag that was made from just one piece, a circle, with holes and/or grommets around the edge that a drawstring goes through, and gathers the whole thing up into a pouch

    1. Alison, check back for that bag (and others like it) in the very last post!

  16. Thanks for all your hard work putting these tutorials together, have only made one bag,
    But will now try something i can actually use. The one i made the strap wasnt user friendly,
    In other words not practical.

    Look forward to reading the rest of your tutorials.

    Im from Australia and found this on Pinterest

  17. Would you mind if I use your site as a link for my college construction class to use as a resource for making their own bags? They have to alter a pattern in some way to make it their own but I think you layout the different types of bags very well. Thanks.

    1. Unknown: please email me at lier.koh@gmail.com so I can understand a little better what this entails. Thanks!


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