Monday, August 21, 2017

Convertible Summer Bag

Last week, I suddenly realized that it was almost the end of summer.


Quickly made a summer bag. You know, in an effort to channel more summeryness before the bad S-word comes a-falling out of the sky like atmospheric dandruff.

So, this bag, like so many other craft projects, has been in my head for a long time. But then I procrastinated: first, I had to go find the cord for the strap, and then hunt down grommets that were big enough for it (the typical 1/2" ones on the notions wall of JoAnn and Hobby Lobby were too small) that also didn't require an expensive Installation Tool that I might use only a couple times before it joined the other obsolete sewing gadgets I've collected in my lifetime.

This is how big the bag is. And how it looks carried over the shoulder, according to the original design (spoiler: there's a twist to this later - read on).

Couldn't be simpler: a round bucket with grommets.

Some inner features: a key lanyard, which I now put in all the bags I make, because it's my favorite way to secure (and find) my keys, and leaves the pockets free for other things.

Speaking of pockets, here's a new pocket I've been working with for future bag patterns: a zippered welt without the welt-technique, and with as few layers as possible for bulk-lessness.  Easier for beginners (and mass-producing), I'm thinking.

I have no idea what this picture is about. 

So that was Bag Version 1.0. 

And then Emily comes into the sewing room and says, "Hey! I like that bag. But it should be a backpack, too. Make the straps become a backpack, Mom. Actually, make it convertible. Put a thing at the bottom so the straps stay put there."

Let it go on record that this next bit is Emily's design. 

Again, I have no idea what I'm doing in this picture, but the bag at least is behaving itself.

The peapod fabric, incidentally, is from Jessica Jones' gorgeous-but-sadly-no-longer-not-in-print Modern Flora collection. The strap and piping fabric is a green linen I've had forever.

Let's now go off on a totally different tangent for a while and talk about instructions and such.

Many bloggers and pattern-designers may do things differently, but I generally share my instructions for making things in three formats:

1 Deconstruction tutorials
These are the shortest and quickest way I share instructions. They feel most like an overview, and the how-tos offer the least hand-holding. Most of the photos will have been taken after the project is completed, and I'd refer to techniques and methods in retrospect, rather than "Step 1, do this." Usually, there are no templates or dimensions (apart from those of the finished project), because I didn't want to take the time to record them or sketch and scan a cutting or layout diagram. My 2016 Zip A Bag series was a collection of deconstruction tutorials.

Upside: Deconstruction tutorials are my secret weapon for sharing how-tos for a maximum number of projects on this blog in a minimal amount of time.
Folks who've made similar projects could read a deconstruction tutorial and gain enough inside info to make this new one on their own. 

Downside: Deconstruction tutorials tend to by skimpy on details, so readers who are unfamiliar with this kind of project will probably not be able to make this themselves. You'll know you're reading a deconstruction tutorial when, at the end of it, you find yourself asking, "Where are the dimensions? Oh, she didn't say how long the zipper was, or what size the pieces were. Dangit."

2 Full tutorials
These are step-by-step instructional posts with in-progress photos. Depending on the level of sanity in my life at the time, I may even annotate these photos. Full tutorials offer a lot more hand-holding and details, including dimensions of the various pieces in the layout. Blog readers ADORE full tutorials because they are like sew-alongs. However, they require a lot of time to put together, and drag out the actual sewing process which has to be interrupted every few minutes to photograph each crucial step. Which in turn increases the possibility of having to stop to, say, prepare dinner, before even the prototype is completed. Which in turns runs the risk of abandoning the entire process altogether.  Here is an example of a full tutorial.

Upside: If I keep my wits about me and write them properly, anyone of almost any sewing level can follow along most of my full tutorials, particularly when I provide templates for download and immediate use.

Downside: They require so much time that I could only share a small fraction of the projects on this blog as full tutorials compared to what I would've been able to share as deconstruction tutorials. Often, the prospect of photographing, photoediting and writing a full tutorial is sufficiently overwhelming that I surrender in the early stages and the project never makes it to the blog even as a brag post. As I've gotten busier in recent years, I find myself taking time to write tutorials for simpler projects, like those which can be documented in fewer than 20 photos. 

3 Sewing Patterns
Unlike deconstruction and full tutorials which are free to access on my blog, patterns are digital instructional files that you buy. Sewing patterns are ridiculously detailed, to the point where they make full tutorials look like child's play. They can run for pages, to include everything from yardage and fabric treatment and alternative materials if you can't get the first-choice materials we recommend. They might include tips and additional background education for stitches, the use of a special sewing tools, and trouble-shooting if you have X kind of sewing machine vs. Y kind of sewing machine. They often feature photos of everything, including variations of that project in multiple fabrics and adaptations. There might even be photos of the side view of the sewing machine and the front view of the sewing machine and the back view of the sewing machine just so you can visualize stuff. There are cutting plans and 45" -width layouts and 54"-width layouts and checklists to help you organize the one thousand pieces of bag innards you need to cut out. 

Upside: One, ultimate hand-holding. The aim is to get you from the first to the last step without mishap and with minimal Figuring-It-Out-Yourself, after which you are the proud owner of a tote bag, or a stuffed animal, or a ball gown or whatever. Two, once I'd committed to writing instructions for a particular project at the sewing-pattern level, I'd be equally open to simple as more challenging/unique projects (case in point: Menagerie and its hundreds of photos).

Downside: Sewing patterns take FOREVER to produce. This has less to do with the complexity/simplicity of the project and more to do with the inherent process of pattern-making: creating multiple prototypes, sourcing easily-available materials and testing out alternatives, writing the drafts, refining in rounds with outside testers, incorporating feedback, and so on. So it may be months between seeing a brag shot of a project on my blog and actually being able to sew it with my instructions. And they're not free - you actually have to invest money in them.

Okay, here's where I'd love for you guys to weigh in. 

Before I had any shapeshifting ambitions for this bag i.e. while it was just a common drawcord beach tote, I'd thought to do a deconstruction tutorial for you guys because you see the photos in this post? Them's all I took. No in-progress shots at all. No annotations needed. No dimensions or measurements. Quick, minimal and maybe even in time for Labor Day!

Then we added the infinity rouleau strap, and the convertible loop to turn the tote into a backpack, and it felt like it was becoming a pattern, because there were new techniques that could be helpful to teach, and variations for the strap should people be unable (or disinclined) to make a rouleau strap like this. 

But instead of me making the final call, I thought I'd ask you guys what you'd prefer. We could do a skimpy deconstruction or a sewing pattern with variations. Either way, I'd say a beginner could make this bag. Seriously. You'd have to step out of the quilting cotton comfort zone a bit, but you could absolutely get all the materials and hardware at Joann's or Hobby Lobby. 

So if you have an opinion, I'd love to hear from you in the comments: skimpy deconstruction or sewing pattern?

And feel free to say you're not interested either way because this bag design does not call to your inner fashionista. I would not be offended. In fact, I might cheer and say, "Yay! I can go swimming instead of sewing." It's all good - I just want to put my time where it can benefit you guys most.

Thank you so much, friends!


  1. I love everything you post. Your bag is awesome. The photos are awesome. I don't need any more information to make this bag. Enjoy the rest of summer, my vote!

  2. I'd say a simple tutorial and then later on (whenever you can pluck free time out of the air) then make a pattern & sell it for those who what the exact dimensions, instructions & hand-holding. The bag looks super awesome too ..forgot to start with that!! :)

  3. The straps-to-backpack conversion was ingenious!! Such a nice twist, same bag, many needs! I'll go for the skimpy deconstruction aka reverse-engineering. How "Z" starts from "A", and how "A" reaches "Z".

  4. So as someone whose imaginary projects vastly outstrip the few projects a year I manage to complete, I feel that the deconstruction tutorial photos usually fill that void I crave. I love that you can do so many in a year & keep on posting. The rough sketches you sometimes add in are good enough to let me build my imaginary project.

    I gotta say though. I'm dying to figure out how you made that strap! One of the things I loved about the bag series was how you occasionally broke down a particular technique into tutorial shorts? minis? Tutorialettes? Whatever. That was cool.

  5. I would say full tutorial because I'm that kind of worker. I don't always do well with "apply technique A, B, and C on your own to examples 1, 2, and 3". Also I would like to pay you for your work. (Plus if I actually pay for it I will be more likely to actually make it rather than just sock it away on Pinterest and forget about it. But I'd hate to tell you not to go swimming. Go swimming first!

  6. I vote for deconstruction, because it will be done the soonest, and is most adaptable to other projects I might be designing.

    But I'm also with Elena - don't do anything until swimming weather is over! Go swimming! Break that lovely bag in at the pool or beach!

  7. It' s funny because this is the kind of bag I wanted to make for a long time...and there you have it! I would welcome any of these formats, I am an intermediate sewer but I have no experience in bag making, so a full tutorial would be ideal but I think I could manage with a deconstruction tutorial. This is a great bag!

  8. Seconding the suggestion to put out a deconstruction tutorial first, and if you find the time later to produce a full pattern for those who want/need that kind of instruction.

  9. Lovely bag for summer and a great idea from Emily, too!

    This particular bag isn't one I'd make, so I'll refrain from voting.

    You didn't ask for this, so of course, it may be ignored. I'd love to see dimensions included in the Deconstruction Tutorials. It's the one thing that would help me get started on several things I'd like to try, but the thought of not knowing how to get started has made it too easy to just look for another project elsewhere. I think for me, having piece dimensions is the one thing that would make a huge difference. But...maybe you don't know the piece dimensions when you start a project and would have to figure that all out after the fact. Yeah, that would definitely not be cool for you to do, but if you know the starting dimensions at the beginning of a project, those would be really, really welcome.

    Thanks for all you've shared here over the years. Your posts contain not only beauty but also many thought-provoking questions.

  10. Such a clever simple bag! I would probably buy the pattern of you do make one because this looks like a great tween sewing project. But I could probably work out the details from a deconstruction too. I am very curious about your new zipper method!

  11. Hi Lier, I love your blog. I am infinitely grateful for all the bag making skills it has given me. I am fine with a deconstruction post because I really appreciate how these posts have taught me how to think on my own when it comes to making bags. Thank you!

  12. I'm fairly new at sewing, but I had loads of fun with your zip a bag series because with just specific enough (for me) directions I felt free to just see what happened. So I vote for more swimming first and a deconstruction tutorial to follow.

  13. I love the bag and vote for the deconstruction tutorial now.

  14. Hello!
    This is a lovely bag. I find that for myself deconstruction photos are quite enough to make my own version, especially if they are well done (yours always are). I am a pattern drafter and I prefer to draft my own patterns from deconstruction photos. I learned how to draft from your in-depth drafting tutorial, thank you so much for writing that.

  15. What a great bag, especially with the ingeniously simple backpack conversion piece!
    I vote for more swimming, & just a deconstruction. Except for that handle- I think I have is construction figured out, but a tutorial-ette would be much appreciated

  16. Hi Lier! Love your blog, love your bags. I actually bought one from your Etsy store and I use it and admire it constantly! I am all for a deconstruction tutorial on this bag. I can (probably) figure out the rest myself. I like the challenge. And I would love to know more about that 'welt without the welt' pocket. Thanks for all you do, and do enjoy the rest of summer.

  17. I'll admit that I always like a pattern, but I'd be happy with a deconstruction tute. Very happy!

  18. I also vote for deconstruction. Over the years, you have taught us so many bag techniques that some simple pointers should be sufficient. A few measurements couldn't hurt either!

  19. Lier, so cool! I would love to see a tutorial for the strap and strap adaptor snap panel. I could do the rest with deconstruction. I would also like to hear more about the fabric/interfacing/hardware types you used. I always learn so much when you explain your choices.

    Remember your pocket series? I recently made my first welt pocket based on your instruction. Maybe you should teach that new pocket in the same style.

    For your business side, some crochet blogs do free tutorials on their site, and a paid version (same content but set up to print nicely) for just a few dollars. We could be supporting your fine tutorials!

  20. Deconstructed tutorial. And a big OH YEAH to Emily. OOOHHHHH YEAAAAH. I like the family thinking.

  21. Your daughter is rather onto this design business.

  22. Deconstructed tutorial would work for me, but I have been sewing for a long time (since 1968, clothes for self, husband, children). A general description of size and how you did that handle "loop" would probably be sufficient. Come to think of it, how you made that pocket would be welcome. And thank you for the ideas about sewing, bag making and all the rest of what you do.

  23. I'm with the enjoy-the-summer-deconstruction-post-would-be-fine (but this post is probably really enough for me) people. :)

    On the other hand, I'm always happy when you can make money, so if you feel like writing the pattern later on, that's great too!

  24. I follow you from France and my English is not so good especially for "technic words". So, all the detailled pictures are welcome and if I find some step by step it's easier.
    Thank you for all you share. It's very useful for beginners like me.


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