Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mesh Wet Bag Tutorial Part I

Let's play catch-up!

I'm mourning the end of summer. I know a lot of people who love the coolness of fall - and I do, too - but I miss the consistency of summer. I liked being able to stay in exactly the same outfit the entire day, without putting on or taking off any layers. I liked being able to leave bread dough out in my locked car to rise. I liked being able to nip out just before bedtime to run a quick errand in the (still) bright sunshine. I liked the pool and the catharsis of falling asleep on a deckchair with my notebook on my sunscreened belly. I liked the feeling of having all the kids with me, ready to go on adventures together - the zoo, the Science Museum, a park, a new eatery for our weekly teas. I liked how it reminded me of home in Singapore, where -sometimes regrettably - every day was summer.

But I also like that my kids are in school now, being stimulated and challenged in ways that were by definition completely antagonistic with the ways of summer. I like that they're back with their old friends and making new ones, sitting under the tutelage of a variety of teachers. And I like that I have my mornings to myself, even if briefly, until little Kate steps off the schoolbus and torpedoes straight into my arms, hungry for lunch and excited to be home.

That's where I am now - the beginning of the school year, settling into my new routine of early mornings and falling temperatures. I don't feel like sewing. Or reading. Or cleaning house. Or redecorating. Or visiting with people. Or writing. Or blogging. Or websurfing. Or shopping. Or anything, really. Although - I must confess that I am slightly thrilled about fall fashion. It is so much more fun to sew clothes for fall - they're smarter, the fabrics are richer and drape better about the body, the lines are cleaner and people feel generally more put-together than in the carefree, anything-goes summer season. I might finally dig out my wools and sew myself a few more bias-cut Alines. I've needed them for yonks. Also another basic denim skirt. And that Chinese blouse with frogs. I have all these small project tubs, each filled with the fabric, lining, zipper, paper pattern - all drafted and ready to lay out. Some of these tubs were prepared months (or years) back. Then I lost interest because garmentmaking is sooooooo boring compared to playing or swimming or designing a new toy. Then I tell myself that I can't always be crafting-sewing; sometimes I have to balance it out with tailoring-sewing. Even if I have to force myself to do it. It's all about balance, right? Or finishing WIPs. Whatever.

Well. Enough of me. You came for a tutorial that I'd promised from weeks ago, right?

To make those bags with the round, piped bases

in rainbow colors?

Here we go, then.

I'm going to start out with a reality check. This is not a bag for beginning bag-seamstresses. Let me clarify: the design is easy. And were it made of cotton/homedec/canvas fabric (with or without copious amounts of interfacing), beginning bag-seamstresses would probably enjoy it, even with the circular base and piping. However, the combination of waterproof and synthetic materials of which this particular wet bag is made will be challenging to even intermediate bag-seamstresses. For starters, you need to be willing to
  • work with cargo netting, which is fluid and moves a lot and stretches in all directions and changes dimensions as you sew
  • not pin anything at all and instead ease materials together by hand as they go under the presser foot
  • be prepared not to unpick anything or rip any seams when sewing on webbing, because it is almost impossible to see coordinating-color stitches against the weave of the webbing. This means you must sew it right the first time
  • use brute force when working with the rigid piping and simultaneously unyielding and slippery ripstop nylon
  • deal with insane fraying (yes, ripstop nylon and webbing fray)
  • not iron or press any seams to hold them in place
  • finish every single seam without a serger i.e. the old-fashioned way of flat-felling or binding.

If, however, you are bored of sewing bags in regular cloth fabric and lining layers and interfacing, maybe this will be an interesting change, if nothing else, because of the unusual materials used. In addition to the cargo netting and ripstop nylon, you'll be working with polyester webbing, grommets, nylon cord, vinyl tubing, electrical tape and - snort! - a toothpick and a candle.

And now, if you're ready for an adventure, let's get started! I'm going to do this tutorial in two parts. The first part contains the cutting plan and tips on working with these somewhat unusual materials. The second part contains the actual step-by-steps.

Begin by downloading the schematic diagram and cutting plan:

Here follow some notes on the materials used. These were chosen because they were either water-resistant or held up well upon getting wet.

1  Cargo Netting
This is what cargo netting looks like (the black thing in the photo below). 

It's not quite the same as laundry bag fabric or athletic mesh (what holey basketball tank-tees are made of), which also has holes but feels like stretchy jersey fabric. Cargo netting has no "fabric" to speak of: it's like a net of holes held together by strands. The holes are roundish, have no warp/weft (so to speak) direction and no discernible RS/WS. 

I bought mine at Joann here. Look for it in the utility fabric section (not the apparel/dancewear/sportswear aisle), along with the burlap and Thermaflec and ripstop nylons (which will meet in the next section). 

You can't pin cargo netting because of the big holes, so I use sticky tape to hold things in place before sewing. I rip off the tape as I sew, just before the needle touches it. 

You can mark cargo netting, even black cargo netting. I use grease pencils (see photo below), but crayons or soft color pencils would probably work too. 

I use a regular universal needle to sew cargo netting. And I used regular polyester thread. Don't bother with a short stitch length because you're going to be sewing through mostly holes anyway - a medium stitch length is better. 

Cargo netting doesn't fray like cotton fabric frays in little threads, but it does unravel at the cut ends and lose its crisp edge. And serging/zigzagging doesn't work on it because of (you guessed it) the holes and big spaces between strands of actual material. So we finish the edges by binding the seam allowances with something with more body - in this tutorial, I've used grosgrain ribbon, regular ribbon and the ripstop nylon fabric at the seam itself.  

The high proportion of holes to actual "fabric" also causes cargo netting to stretch and morph in all directions as you sew. This might mean that, say, a 15" length of cargo netting ends up being 18" after being accidentally stretched under the presser foot. To prevent this (and remember, we can't pin it in place!), ease it under the foot. This means you feed it generously under the foot as you sew, avoid pulling it in either direction and pay attention to the shape of the holes as you handle it. The holes should remain circular as the fabric moves; if they start looking oval or similarly distorted, you might be unknowingly stretching it.

2 Ripstop nylon 

can also be bought easily. It comes in different weights or thicknesses (and colors). If it's too thin for your purposes, use a double layer, as I did for the circular base of this bag. It layers well because it is light and has hardly any bulk. It can be marked with anything that fabric can be marked with - markers, pens, chalk, etc. It frays copiously when cut, and the ends have to be finished. You can serge them, but I prefer to bind them.

3 Rigid Piping
The piping for this bag is not that soft, furry piping cord people use in upholstery. This is a wet bag, meaning that we'll want it to drain and dry easily and, therefore, furry, absorbent upholstery piping cord would be disastrous. I couldn't find the official hard piping in the usual fabric stores so I improvised with vinyl tubing from the hardware store. It comes in different diameters. Mine was 0.25" in external diameter.

It's stiff, which is good because we want it to help the base hold its circular shape in the complete absence of interfacing. The drawback of its stiffness is that it tends to twist and slide within the fabric piping channel. This makes it somewhat unwieldy under the presser foot, so be prepared to stop-and-lift-the-foot-and-reposition frequently as you work. 

4 Webbing
Webbing is lovely to work with for straps because it comes ready-made. You just cut it to the length you want, finish the cut edges (because they fray something awful) and topstitch those ends onto your bag. If the ends will be tucked into a seam, I don't finish them. If they are going to be exposed, I finish my ends simply by melting (they're polyester, remember) them over a naked flame (like a candle) to seal them, a procedure I call The Candle Method. Here is an old post showing how to do that.

Head over to Part II for the step-by-steps as we put the bag together!


  1. Fabulous! Thank you for sharing. :o)
    Larissa ~ Prodigal Pieces

  2. I don't think I would ever make a wet bag like this, but it's cool to know how to do it. By the way, have you ever thought about using Clover Wonder Clips? They are little plastic clips that you can use to hold layers of fabric together when you can't use pins. I've yet to try them, but they look great.

  3. This bag would be perfect for sports! :)

  4. Hmm... I don't feel like doing any of those things, either. Must be the season change. I feel more like sitting and watching hummingbirds at my feeder, or sit holding sleeping kittens on my lap... lovely, relaxing things like that. So I force myself to chop up peppers to freeze, mow the lawn yet again, etc., etc.

    Great tips on handling all that difficult stuff!


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