Monday, 23 July 2012

Patchwork bag for Imogen...

Imogen and her mum, a friend of mine from university, have asked for a tutorial for the patchwork tote bags that I often seem to make as birthday presents. I'm sure there must be tutorials online already, but Imogen is the third younger reader to show an interest, so I decided to write up my way of making them in a pattern aimed at younger people...
We're basing the design on this particular bag shown below. For this bag, I used squares that started as 3.5 inches, and after stitching were 3 inches. Therefore the total bag size is 9 by 12 inches, excluding the handles.

First step is to choose your fabrics. Really this pattern works best with 3 or 6 different fabrics. However, for today, my own supplies are running low, and I've decided to go with my purple fabrics, of which I have 4. 

The best way to cut patchwork fabric is using a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and patchworking ruler (which measures in inches). If you look closely, you can see that I have placed the ruler against a straight edge of fabric, and am ready to cut on the 3.5 inch line. 
If you haven't cut fabric this way before, please ask for a demonstration when you buy the kit. The first time using a rotary cutter is very daunting, not to mention dangerous! They are very sharp; always close the blade as soon as you have finished cutting.

As I am using 4 fabrics, I need 6 squares in each one. If you use 3 fabrics, you will need 8 squares in each. With 6 fabrics, you need 4 of each. I therefore cut two 3.5 inch strips.

The great thing about the rotary cutter, is I can now place the strips on top of each other and cut through them both at the same time. First, you need to neaten the edge by cutting a small piece off.

Then line up your ruler again to the 3.5 inch mark and cut your squares!

Six squares ready in the first fabric!

And four neat piles, ready to go!

Now play around with different layouts. This is where multiples of 3 work best, but with my 4 fabrics I decided to go for this arrangement:

Now, to make the sewing easier, I decided to lay out both the back and the front of the bag in one long piece, ready to sew in strips. Be careful with this, remembering that the fabrics at the bottom of the photo are essentially upside down at the moment! This is especially important if your fabrics are directional, in other words, have a picture or design which has a clear 'right way up'. 

Ok, for sewing them together, I will be using my quarter inch foot. You can see in the photo that it has a metal ridge at the edge.This acts as a guide, and ensure that all your squares have a quarter inch seam around them, meaning that when they have been sewn, they will all be the same size.

Take the two pieces from the top right and top middle. Place right sides together and push them to the edge of the sewing foot. Stitch a neat line.

When you get near the end, don't bother cutting the thread. We are going to chain stitch the whole of the right and middle columns. So, put right sides together the right hand piece and middle piece from the second row down. Now add them in and start sewing.

Here you can see the squares as they are being sewn. Be careful to leave a couple of stitches before joining the next squares.

The right hand column and middle are now joined together, and you should be able to snip the small gap in between the rows as they came off the machine. 

Now start joining them to the left hand column. 

You should end up with a long train of squares! 

Lay your rows out in order, and check none have got muddled up. Before sewing the rows together, you need to iron the seams flat. The best thing is to iron each row in the opposite direction. This will help in the next stage.

In the photo below, I have sewn the top two rows together. As you sew, go slowly and make sure the edges of the squares are matching up.

This is a picture of the back so far... See how the seams were ironed in different directions to help the piece lie flat?

I tend to sew in groups, and joined two rows by sewing left to right. Then, just in case the fabric is twisting slightly, it's good to sew the remaining seams from right to left.

 You now have your whole piece of patchwork bag all ready!

Iron it carefully on the back, and remove all loose threads. Iron all the seams in a downwards direction, except for the one in the middle, which will be at the bottom of the bag. It is better to iron this one open.

Right, Imogen, get cracking and make your patchwork piece! I'll be back soon with instructions for making the handles, lining, and creating the bag. Have fun!


  1. Thank you! That's our project sorted for this morning! We'll get ourselves ready for part 2!
    S and I

  2. Perfecto Fran, estoy segura que tus seguidores lo han entendido perfectamente.
    Queda bien bonita.