I’ve always loved a good handbag. I am lucky enough to own a couple of nice ones that my lovely husband bought me as birthday presents, but with all the life changes over the last decade or so, I just don’t always use them as much as I really should.
I used to live in London and travel daily in and around that great city, so a fun, stylish and formal looking handbag worked well. I had the time to swap things from one bag to another and choose the one that suited best for the day’s activities and outfit choice. Oh the luxury!
Then life changed, with a move out of London and after that along came our little poppets. My commute to work became a longer, rushed slog of commuter trains, the Tube, as well as the usual walking, all book-ended by mad dashes to get to nursery drop off / pick up in time.
Added to that, having young children meant I now needed a vast bag that I wasn’t too precious about, to lug all the paraphernalia around with us. Easy-clean bags also became pretty vital as I found squished kiddie snacks and leaked Calpol at the bottom of my bags on regular occasions and smeared, sticky, small finger prints on the outside pretty much always!
My lovelier handbags languished in place of ones that fitted a more grab and go lifestyle.
Now my children are a little older and life has changed again, including a bit less work commuting but more school runs.
All of that is a bit of a long-winded background to how I came to decide I would give bag making a go. I realised I could try to find a pattern for a bag that met all the things I wanted it to be and then make it in fabric and colours I really liked.
My first foray into bag making was with a Pattern Scout pattern, the Luna bag. I made one from leather chopped from an old jacket of my husband’s and I was super pleased with it. I really like the smaller size that fits just my (current lifestyle) essentials without being too big, and is easy to wear with its cross body design.
I then made some more for my sister in law, my children and some of their friends.
That really piqued my interest in trying more complex bags, but I was a little intimidated by all the hardware, strange new interfacing and stabilisers that seemed to be required. I had no clue what I would need and where to get it from.
Enter Wattle & Slate, who are actually a wonderful pre-order fabric site about whom I will definitely write a separate post soon. But it was on their Facebook page that I saw a picture of a gorgeous looking bag from a company called Country Cow Designs, made using some of the Wattle & Slate fabric.
I sought out the Country Cow website, found a glorious selection of bag patterns and realised the owner Jo does a full YouTube video for each pattern showing you, step by step, how to sew them.
Jo also has incredibly clear instructions and gives you the commonly used names of the hardware and interfacing etc. needed for each bag, with information on where to get it all from. Furthermore, Jo sews the bags on a domestic machine rather than an industrial one and hence her bags are designed with fabrics – and have sewing techniques – that most domestic machines should be able to cope with.
This was just the help I needed to feel ready and able to dive into the scary world of bag making.
Little did I know how much I would love it, how addictive it would quickly become. And how much you can spend on hardware and tools, if you are so inclined 😂. A wonderful discovery for my enjoyment, excitement, love of a challenge and satisfaction from envisaging and then creating something lovely. Not so much for my bank balance though!
My first bag was the Teloujay. This pattern is only £2 and is intended as a beginner / starter pattern. Jo has a few optional features you could leave out to make it even easier, but I decided to go for all the bells and whistles.
I also made the Nasyow pouch, which one of Country Cow’s free patterns and a lovely little make, also really good for a first project.
After that I decided to try the Kelzjon Bag as a little gift. This is a multi purpose sort of bag or storage option, including uses for crafts like knitting and crocheting, which is something the recipient does.
It was between making the Teloujay and the Kelzjon that I bought a proper press machine for installing rivets (details and link at the end of this post). I can’t tell you how much easier and more fun it is installing rivets with this press, instead of battling with the little handheld tool and a hammer. The rivets go in like a dream and feel so much more secure. These presses aren’t particularly cheap, especially as you need a separate die set for each size / thing you are installing, but if you get into bag making and are in a position to treat yourself I really do recommend getting one.
My latest finished bag is actually a back pack, the Cornish Backpack. This is a bit more involved but still absolutely achievable if you have a bit of general sewing experience and follow Jo’s YouTube video sew along.
From comments and recommendations on Jo’s channel I then came across other bag makers on YouTube and through them, other bag patterns.
Just a note in relation to sewing leather and with particular reference to the Clarissa Clutch shown up above, don’t look too closely at the top stitching on the front band or strap! My machine did not like top stitching through this leather, despite using a size 100 leather needle, increasing my stitch length, having the built in walking foot thing on my Pfaff machine and going slowly. Let’s just say many strong words were spoken… I then discovered (somewhat belatedly) that increasing the pressure on my presser foot up to around 8.5 or 9 seemed to make things work much better. Ah well, at least I worked that out eventually, even if not in time for that bag!
Three YouTube bag making channels I am now subscribed to (in addition to Country Cow) are Seams Legit, Jess OklaRoots and Siah Swag, who are all excellent and give so much helpful information as well as links to hardware, helpful tools and other supplies, although these three are based in Australia and the US respectively so their supplies links are not quite as handy for UK viewers but great for people in those two countries.
(I have put a few links below to some UK suppliers I have been using, in case that helps anyone.)
Through the OklaRoots channel I came across the Backyard Caddy from Sallie Tomato, which I bought and plan to make up soon, ready for some fun, summer bbqs.
It has reinforced to me though, just from comparison with the couple of other patterns I have now made or read up on, how great Jo of Country Cow’s patterns and instructions are. Some of the other patterns weren’t so clear with specifying e.g. what size zip to use, or what sort of interfacing. I can see that when you have more experience you might know this yourself and even have your own preferences that you know how to accommodate. But for a beginner dabbling their toe into this addictive world I highly recommend starting with Country Cow. Which isn’t to say their patterns are only for beginners, not at all. Experts and newbies alike – plus anyone in between – will have a whale of a time sewing any of the Country Cow patterns.
I will just add by the way that I have no links or affiliation with Country Cow Designs or Jo herself! I just really love and am impressed with her patterns.
I am currently sewing the latest release from Country Cow, the Momexa Bag. I’m using another piece of Wattle and Slate fabric (the same as the one in the Clarissa Clutch up above – it’s amazing how many bags you can get out of half a metre of 150cm wide canvas!), with some beautiful, royal blue, textured leather from Pittards for the accent features.
Now I just need our part of the world to start opening up further from lockdown, so I can actually go places – and take my lovely new, me-made bags along for the ride!
Links to UK based places I have bought bag making hardware bits from (just to clarify that none of these – or any others in this post – are affiliate links):
Wattle & Slate – gorgeous fabric with several different designs released each round, all available on a variety of bases. I used the canvas base for my bags. It is a pre-order company (rather than having fabric available to buy all the time), so you will have to look out for when they next have a round open for pre orders. There is a great Facebook group that is well worth joining.
Sewhot is a great online shop for loads of bag hardware, interfacing, continuous zippers and pulls, faux leather as well as a lot of very tempting fabric.
Pittards is a treasure trove of meltingly soft leather in so many colours.
Tania Fabrics is another great site for hardware, interfacing, fabrics, zips etc.
Plus the usual eBay and Etsy searches will bring up all sorts of bag making goodies like D Rings, lobster clips and so forth.