I rather enjoy sewing bags. Never any fitting issues, making something useful. Generally I turn to one of the many brilliant bag patterns by Nicole Mallalieu of You Sew, Girl! But late one night when browsing the internet, possibly after a glass or two of wine, I decided to press the buy button on the Grainline Stowe Bag.
This bag is styled so beautifully in the website photos, and looked to be a good project bag. The description on the website is as follows:
BAG DETAILS – Designed by Fringe Supply Co., purveyors of fine knitting supplies, Stowe is the ideal project bag – whatever your project may be! The main compartment is perfect for works-in-progress while the many side pockets organize small tools, patterns & notebooks. It may have been designed with knitting in mind but you’ll find it equally useful for a variety of purposes from travel to everyday! Techniques involved include sewing a straight seam and applying bias binding.
SUGGESTED FABRICS – Medium weight woven fabrics such as denim, linen, twill, and canvas. Fabrics over 9oz are not recommended for this pattern because of potential sewing machine difficulty.
NOTIONS – Thread, double fold bias binding 1/4″ to 3/8″ wide: Small bag requires 1 1/4 yds. Large bag requires 1 2/3 yds.
Eventually I printed off the pattern and taped it together, pulled some denim out of stash, pulled some pretty quilting cotton out of stash, made a whole lot of double fold bias binding (I think I used the 25mm bias tape maker) and sewed up some Stowe bags. I sewed both the small and the large.
So, they look rather cute, don’t they? I really like the bias bound handles and the way that they fold into the side gussets. I also rather like applying bias binding. I did it the way I usually do, by sewing it to the wrong side first then wrapping it around to the front and top-stitching it down about a mm away from the edge. This keeps it all neat and there are no issues with accidentally missing any spots.
However, there is a WHOLE LOT of bulk and raw edges in the bottom of this bag if you make it according to the instructions. It’s an unlined bag, so all those edges are visible. I overlocked the seams, and stitched the thick triangles of denim down to the base to secure them, but it’s all so heavy! Remember that there are pockets on the inside of the bag, so that bottom seam and the side seams have four layers of denim sewn together in lots of places. Add a few folded sections and that is a whole lot of fabric.
There is one upside to all that bulk – it helps the bag to keep it’s shape and makes it nice and square and work well as a project bag. I gave the small bag to my mum, and she’s been using it quite satisfactorily. So I decided to sew another small bag and see if I could improve things a little. This time I butted the pocked piece to the main body piece so that I could just fold the pocket back up against the body after sewing one seam between two thicknesses between the front and back of the bag rather than having four thicknesses along that bottom seam.
Now the inside bottom seam looks like this:
No raw edges along that seam and much less bulk. However, I didn’t figure out what to do with the side seams to improve things there and forced my poor overlocker and machine to deal with the layers.
So, the final verdict on this pattern? Okay, the denim that I used was probably right on the edge of the maximum weight possible, so I didn’t make things easy. I really like the handles and the bias binding finish, the internal pockets (sewn directly to the outer of the bag, but you can’t see the stitching on this denim) and the boxy structure. I really dislike the bulk and exposed folded corners on the inside, and think there would definitely be another (better) way to do this. I’m happily using my little Stowe bag – it is an excellent small project size – so I suppose that overall the pattern is not a bad pattern – but it’s not a great one either. It is however rather expensive for what it is, especially given the suggested construction method, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find similar patterns as free tutorials online.
If you want to make bags – simple through to more advanced – I highly recommend Nicole Mallalieu‘s books You Sew, Girl! and The Better Bag Maker. (This is where I say that I know Nicole personally but honestly I wouldn’t be giving these a plug if I didn’t mean it). The great thing about her patterns and books is that she teaches you techniques so that you know how to do things like reduce bulk where it matters, and how to get a really good finish on what you make. She’s a qualified fashion designer and pattern maker with years and years of experience and it really shows in what you can learn from her patterns and books. Next time I’m temped to press the “buy” button on a pattern like the Stowe I’ll be heading straight to my bookshelf and pulling out The Better Bag Maker instead.