I’m the kind of person who buys a classic handbag and uses it until the bag falls apart. I also prefer to coordinate my purses with my outfit rather than the traditional shoes + purse. Nor do I go for a “POP of color” that’s so popular today. I prefer for my handbags to disappear into the background. But I do keep a bag in each of 3 colors: black, navy and brown. 6 years ago, I started sewing my own purses. I was frustrated at the time, because all the hand bags on the market were either gigantic totes or hardly bigger than my french wallet. I purchased and donated 3 different handbags before trying to sew my own. Since then I’ve acquired 3 excellent books on bag making, multiple patterns and lots of bag findings. I’ve gravitated towards Clover’s Trace and Create patterns. The ones Nancy Zieman demonstrates. I like these because each pattern has several variations; all the markings are there on the templates and the templates are a stiff plastic in place of flimsy tissue. I find it easiest to adapt these templates to the variation I have in mind. But up to now I’ve avoided the Town and Country template because of its rounded- bottom gusset.
I have attempted other patterns with gussets and achieved less than stellar results. If I’m going to use an item, I want to be proud of it not just proud for having made an effort. I also prefer a purse with a flat bottom, so it can stand on it’s on. But I’ve had excellent results with both the City Bag and California Bag collections and decided to give this pattern a shot..
My fabric is the cotton/linen remnant from the recently finished brown jeans. I used a 3/8″-thick, fusible fleece to underline the sides. The bottom is a sandwich of cotton/linen fabric, a stiff thin stabilizer and a 1/4″-thick fleece. Bottom and sides feel right for a purse. They are soft and cushy but firm not stiff. I mean I don’t expect this purse to stand up on its own but it shouldn’t sprawl too far and the contents will be buffered against most bumps.
I enlarged the bag. When I’m out and about I like to carry my french clutch (with all its monetary supplies) my 3-pocket cosmetic pouch and my Nook. I knew the versions without the gusset would not hold the Nook. I wasn’t sure if the gusset would give me enough depth and volume to carry all that I like to carry. Here’s the thing, I already have a brown bag. I’m replacing it because I used the wrong stabilizer for that bag. The current, brown bag has always looked and felt like cheap crap even though I paid $20 for the 1/2 yard of faux-leather. I don’t want to replace a bag I dislike with a bag too small to carry my stuff. Besides, these templates are really easy to adapt. I wish I had taken pictures because the process is simple. For the gusset, I folded the fabric. Made a mark 1″ from the fold and aligned the center of the template with the 1″ mark. For the purse sides, I repeated folding the fabric and making the 1″ mark from the fold; align the template with the 1″ mark and trace. Next I drew a line 2″ up from the bottom of the just traced outline. Slid the template upward to align along the 2″ mark and traced the sides and top of the template.
Never content to let such a large blank surface to go with out embellishment, I spent 4 hours couching Perle cotton, rayon and velvet threads in a radiating design to both front and back.
All those lines seemed to need to point to something, so I added an embroidery to the front flap.
I did not use the included flap-template for my flap. I wanted something a little bigger to help keep my stuff inside because I wasn’t using a zipper. For the flap, I traced the upper curve of the big template; slid the template upwards until the bottom was about 6″ from the traced upper curve and traced the sides and bottom curve. Like I said, wished I had taken pictures. These templates make it so easy to adapt the pattern to what I want my bag to be.
Even with the thickness of fleece, the pieces were ease to sew together. Much easier than I expected. I chose to make the 2 darts on each side piece. Then I marked the dots and center bottom for my view on the sides and gusset. I aligned the gusset with the dots and center bottom with the back of the purse. I carefully stitched from dot to dot. Even secured the stitching. I found that the front the easily attached by aligning the front with the back at the top and then the center bottom marks on the front and gusset. At first I tried stitching from top to gusset, fix; sew the gusset; fix; sew the other side from gusset to top. The gusset corners weren’t secure on the outside. so I started at the top and made one long line of stitching from one top, down the sides, across and enclosing the gusset ends and up to the other top. Just pedal to the metal, one big curve. One big sweep. Perfect. In the future, that’s the way I’ll do it to start with.
Once I mastered adding magnetic snaps to purses, I’ve never looked back and seldom seriously consider a different closure. I lined the bag portion with a quilting cotton printed with a shashiko design. (The flap is lined with same fabric, interlined with 1/4″ fleece) I stitched the sides of the lining together with the gusset leaving about 8″ free along the gusset. I stitched the flap and strap connectors to the purse and then, right sides together, stitched all along the top of the purse. Next I inverted the purse, closed the opening along the gusset with a zig-zag stitch and top stitched 1/4″ from the top of the purse. My HV Ruby made it through all thickness but I was biting my tongue along the strap connectors. (More about them in a few minutes) . When I use this pattern in the future, I will not choose to finish the top of the bag in the exact same manner. I used a size 14 needle. At least one stitch on each strap connector was chancy and this was really thick and difficult to roll towards the inside.
I have tried other methods of attaching the straps to the bag. I like this strap connector method the best. I think it’s attractive and presents a more professional finish. I also like the fact that while I’m working with the bag, the strap connectors are small stubs which are easy to keep out of the way. It can be difficult enough to sew within the bag without having the sew within the bag within the strap. It’s also very easy to get the strap twisted which of course I don’t notice until the bag is nailed-down finished. For the straps I cut a 2″ strip from the longest part of the remnant. The bag directions say to make it 44″ long. Well the remnant didn’t have 44″ anywhere besides, I knew that I want my purses to hang from my shoulder tightly beneath the arm. A 44″ strap dangles all the way to the hip. I didn’t follow the rest of the strap directions. Didn’t even read them. I folded both long sides towards the middle and pressed. It sort of looks like bias tape except the long sides meet in the center. Then I added a layer of fusible glue and a grosgrain ribbon. The fabric and grosgrain ribbon are permanently together. I added the top stitching along each edge because I think that gives the strap a nice professional finish. Top stitching may also provide additional stabilization and strength to the edges. I did not capture a view of how I attach the strap. The connectors are 4″ long folded in half, ring slid inside to the fold and stitch inside the purse. To attach the straps I fold up one end 3″ around the ring. I fold the end again 1/2″ and stitch that to itself above the ring (uhhhhh need pics to really make that clear. Sorry.) I slide the other end of the strap though the other ring and try the bag on. When I’m satisfied with how the purse is hanging on my body, I trim the excess down to 3″ and repeat the fold 1/2″ and stitch. I make a double line of stitching about 3/8″ apart to secure the strap around the rings.
The bag is finished. Immediately I realize the straps seem a little flimsy. I do wish I’d added a layer of interfacing or fleece. During construction, it thought the fleece would be too much and would say “Grandma made this for me”. Now I dunno. Fabric + glue + grosgrain just isn’t enough. Nonetheless. I’m liking my bag and planning to use it for at least a year.