'F' for Fabric Crafty (& Handy)


I made a purse.  It didn’t turn out quite like I had hoped.

I bought a pattern, per Lili’s suggestion. I hesitate to link to the one that I bought because I don’t think it’s the pattern’s fault, but I went with the “one for all shoulder bag” from Betsy Ross. (Sorry to not do your pattern justice Betsy Ross – it was my first attempt at making something other than curtains.)

I didn’t want to potentially waste any of my ‘good’ fabric, so I used an old duvet cover from IKEA and a sheet I picked up at the thrift store for $1. The whole project took a few hours, and really wasn’t too hard. The purse is even sort of cute…

My First Purse

The pattern didn’t call for any lining, but it did say that thick fabrics are better. Maybe that’s why my purse is so floppy? I did try to get fancy though with a lining (thinking it would add the requisite thickness) and pockets. The pocket I created specifically for my cell phone, by the way, is too small.

The Lining

Oh, I also added interfacing to the gusset (the bottom/middle part) of the bag. I thought it would give a little extra support.

It didn’t.

Hello, big floppy mess!

Why does it look like that? What should I have done differently? I was having so much fun making it, but now I don’t think I’ll even use it. It makes me a little sad.

I want to try again, but I’m worried about getting the same results. Any ideas on what I did wrong?

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  • caroline
    January 11, 2008 at 2:19 am

    it’s cute!

    plus, i admire that you used a pattern. i’m too stubborn and try to always wing it whenever i try something.

    it always results in disaster.

  • pve design
    January 11, 2008 at 6:17 am

    If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
    the press on fusings these days are amazing or use canvas, corduroy, felt?
    so many choices for you
    try amy butler for patterns and her fabrics are FAB to sew with!
    Tip, press each step as you sew. PRESS ON!

  • Elissa
    January 11, 2008 at 7:14 am

    Interfacing! It gives your lighter fabric a lift. The reason the pattern called for a heavier fabric is probably because it would have more of a dimension to it… a dimension other than a blob. :)

    But fear not, you can always try try again. I made a clutch last night that looks rather atrocious. It was the first time I made a purse from my own pattern and while the first result is crap, I did learn more about pattern making and how the patterns work (and why little details are really important). Tonight I’m going to cut more fabric (and block it this time! that was one of my biggest downfalls, squiggly looking plaid does not make for a good looking clutch).

    And here are two tips, fabric remnants are GREAT for making purses because they’re cheap and you usually don’t need more than 1/2yd anyway. Aaaaaand, u-handbag.typepad.com. It’ll be your best friend for purse making. :)

  • Valérie
    January 11, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Not too bad for a first attempt! I second the U-handbags website, has great ressources for handbags. Also, I think the handbag itself is a bit weird: big handbag with tiny straps equals no support… :)

  • Mary Beth
    January 11, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Seconding about using interfacing, and/or home dec/upholstery fabric. To make the gusset more rigid, lots of books/patterns recommend Timtex, but I’ve never gotten around to ordering/finding any. I’ve successfully used plastic canvas (you know the stuff your grandma made tissue box covers out of) or if you can get your hands on some corrugated plastic – the kind that many yards signs are made out of (political signs, work done by J&R roofing signs, etc…). If you have a “fast signs” store nearby you can sometimes get them to give you usable scraps, misprints, etc.. for free. We likey free.

  • Wendy
    January 11, 2008 at 8:19 am

    You might want to try using a cotton flannel as an interfacing. It’s super cheap and can add some weight to thinner fabrics. I think you did a great job for your first time!

  • daisy janie
    January 11, 2008 at 8:47 am

    Love the style and fabric Nicole. Marvelous first attempt!

    Introduce yourself to interfacing, you won’t be sorry. You’ll be fast friends when you realize the structural wonders it can do. Timtex is super stiff (I use a similar but more industrial version of this on my handbags), and it may too much for this bag. I think you want slouch but not flop…I would use a heavier cotton canvas to get this effect. Just cut the same pattern out of the canvas and baste the outer fabric and the canvas together.

  • daisy janie
    January 11, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Oh, sorry…..just realized you said you used interfacing on the gusset. Still, I would try the heavy canvas, like duck cloth.

  • Alice
    January 11, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I also read Melissa’s blog and she has made some great bag with extra supports. Check it out! http://www.allbuttonedup.typepad.com

  • Sommer
    January 11, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Even with it’s floppyness, this purse would make for a really awesome knitter’s travel bag. It looks just big enough to throw yarn and needles into to take along to a doctor’s waiting room, lunch break, on the bus, etc.

  • Kathleen
    January 11, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Your fabric is lovely, and what a bargain! I’ve often used a thin quilt batting as lining, it does the same job as interfacing, which is good too, but I like a thicker feeling bag so it works well.

  • Lili
    January 11, 2008 at 10:12 am

    I think its great for a first try!

    I think a heavy canvas or a light interfacing would be your best bet. If you are set on a certain fabric for the outside of the bag you can use the canvas as the lining or inside the bag. It might also help to use a heavier fabric for the green/white plaid pieces. Those will carry the weight of the bag so you’ve got to make sure they’re strong.

    And giving you sewing advice from 3535 miles away (i looked it up!), from your pictures It looks like your tension is off on your sewing machine. When you sew your little thread loops should be tight against the fabric but not so tight that the fabric bunches or gathers. There should be a little wheel above the needle area that adjusts this? You will have to change this setting each time you sew a different weight of fabric. A good way to test is to sew on some scraps before you start your project. This obviously doesnt matter when you are sewing a sample but it will help the seams in your nice fabric project hold up longer.

    And i dont know about anyone else, but i think amy butlers patterns are about as confusing as possible!

  • Candice
    January 11, 2008 at 10:29 am

    I agree with everyone on the interfacing, it will definitely give your bag shape and keep it from being “floppy!”

  • sparkliesunshine
    January 11, 2008 at 10:46 am

    You made a purse! That rocks! It’s adorable! Boo for it getting floppy. I would assume a heavier fabric would fix that right up. It’s still lovely for a first attempt.

    Found you via Kerlop’s blogroll. :)

    (contest on one of the entries on my site good through the weekend also. You could win an etsy.com gift certificate.)

  • sprizee
    January 11, 2008 at 11:40 am

    The purse shape is really cute and I love the fabric combo. You just need a thicker fabric so it holds up better. Printed canvas or a heavy drapery type fabric would work well.

  • minouette
    January 11, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Other commentors have beaten me to it, but I can’t help but agree that interfacing would likely solve your problem. It comes in various thicknesses, depending on what you want to achieve. That’s quite a jump in complexity from curtains so don’t feel discouraged! The patterns are really pretty together. Use the bag as a lunch bag or to store things; it’s quite nice even if it isn’t what you want in a purse.

  • Jenny
    January 11, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    This is why your blog rules. You made a mistake but still posted about it.

  • kandice
    January 11, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    hi nicole. great job on your first bag! im a fashion designer and had to go through all the horrible sewing projects while going to fashion school, so i know your disappointment when something totally does NOT turn out how it looked in your mind, lol.

    yes, you may want to try a thicker sturdier fabric to make the bag again.


    you can use interfacing. which is a lightweight fabric that you iron on to the wrong side of the fabric to give it more structure. interfacing comes in different weights, so you can pick the one you want. you can get it at any fabric store, including joanns.


    you can even try an advanced technique used in couture which i think you will really like. its called using a “backing”. basically you take the real fabric you want to use for the bag, and lay it out with the right side of the fabric facing down. then take a different kind of fabric (any kind you want to give you the structure you want. horsehair is what is normally used.) and lay it on top of the real of the fabric. now you have given the real fabric a “backing” and automatically made it thicker. if you lift up the real fabric, the second fabric will be on the “back” of it. now you handle both fabrics as though they are one fabric, never separating them. then you lay out the pattern pieces and cut them out in BOTH the real fabric and the backing fabric AT THE SAME TIME to make your pattern pieces the same exact size. after you sew the bag, the outside will have the fabric you want and on the inside, you will see the backing fabric. and then you can line the bag with a lining if you want. so the backing is sort of “sandwiched” or “unseen” between the outside fabric and the lining. ultimately creating three layers of fabric and the illusion of a heavier bag. then the bag will sit very nicely and look more rich. which will really give you that professional look you are looking for.

    the couture way may seem like a little more work, and you may have already known this technique if you sew curtains because home decor does the same thing when wanting to make curtains look heavier, but TRUST ME the results will be amazing!!

    good luck and let me know if you need any other help.


  • kate
    January 11, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    In addition to the comments above, I would suggest making wider handles to balance the size of the bag.

  • Making it Lovely
    January 11, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I agree, wider handles would look (and perhaps function) better.

    I’m guessing that the interfacing I used was not sturdy enough. I ordered the two kinds that were on the purlsoho site (fusible and stabilizing), so I’ll wait for my order to come in before I try another purse.

    Lili, I noticed something was wonky with the stitches. I dialed the tension up and down, but I couldn’t tell which way was better so I just kept going! I’ll look into that more (and practice on some scraps) next time.

    I’m off to read up at the websites you’ve all been suggesting…

  • Lili
    January 11, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Erm. Its such a habit to me that im trying to remember… on my machine I think its the higher the number the tighter the thread. When you are sewing 2 thin cotton fabrics you need to have it set pretty high.

  • lsaspacey
    January 11, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Here is a free pattern for a similar purse by Belle Epoque. She also suggests a thicker fabric and names the interfacing that she thinks is best for the project. For mine, I’m using drapery weight upholstery fabric. Amy Butler also has a collection of those too.

  • dani cruz
    January 11, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    i think people answered you it was about the interfacing stuff. but i liked! you should see MY first attempt on sewing. i’m ashamed of even thinking about it!

  • dani cruz
    January 11, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    btw, i suggest you making the jordy bag – it’s a simple tutorial, i think you’ll enjoy it. it’s pretty quick too. here it is: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=32204.0

  • April
    January 11, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    My first purse was a bit on the floppy side, and sadly I haven’t attempted one since. I think I read some of the suggested websites here, and maybe I’ll attempt it again.

  • Carrie S.
    January 11, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Nicole, I think it’s very cute! But, yes, sturdy interfacing makes all the difference. Also, I wonder if thicker handles would help? I don’t think you should give up! Keep practicing…I can’t tell you how many flops I have laying around. And for some reason, I can’t bear to throw them out!

  • Chrissy
    January 11, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I don’t sew, but I think the purse looks great. I like the floppiness. Looks so casual and… I don’t know… a-day-at-the-lake-ish. Or something like that.

  • Maggie Sumner
    January 12, 2008 at 1:15 am

    I would go with light, thin plastic or plastic canvans between the outside fabric and the lining and sew it into place. Maybe just for the bottom and along the side seams, that would help give it some stability and lift.

    I made my first purse back in sewing class in junior high oh those many years ago. Yours is cute and you’ll find that every project gets easier and the result will be better the more you do.

    Maybe you can pick out the stitching for the too-small cell phone pocket and resew it by hand making it slightly bigger? Just a thought.

  • your mother
    January 12, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I am impressed and think it’s a lovely first attempt. You are quite the renaissance WOMAN! As I do not sew, I have no tips for you, but indeed should be getting them from you! Rossi has been over my shoulder watching and was excited to see your picture on the screen!

  • Peggy
    January 12, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Nicole – I think it’s cute! I am a lover of the hobo bag, maybe that’s why. I bet if you put it in your shop, it would sell immediately. Maybe the problem is that the straps are not thick enough. I admire you for taking the time to learn to sew. That’s something I’m not going to learn, I have too much on my list and had to narrow it down somewhere! If I did learn I would probably go crazy making pillows.

  • Michelle
    January 12, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I have that same duvet cover! I’m totally in need of an upgrade.

  • Haley
    January 14, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, I would be thrilled to have a bag come out like that. I’m definitely sewing challenged, but I think your bag is cute!

  • Michelle
    January 18, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Here is a great article about a variety of interfacings: http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/?p=154.

  • Jane E.
    January 18, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I have zero sewing advice BUT I did want to tell you that I saw some purses/totes in Target yesterday that looked exactly like the one you made! So, you might just be right on trend :)

  • becky
    January 18, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I know nothing about sewing, but I do know bags – I decorate with them all the time. If this one is not functional for you to carry, perhaps you could use it for storing fabrics or yarns or something like that. It’s way to cute to just ditch it!

  • Making it Lovely » Blog Archive » Purses, in Progress
    January 19, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    […] are looking better than my first sorry attempt. The one on the left is for my sister (we worked on it together), and the one one the right is […]

  • Making it Lovely » Blog Archive » A Lovely Second Purse
    January 22, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    […] finished my second purse! It was much more complex than my first, and there was a lot of hand stitching involved. I’m quite pleased with the finished […]

  • LeeAnn
    January 26, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    I just found your blog today and read up until this post. I have used the same pattern with varying results. I have used old bed linens to make soft bags that are easy to roll up and throw in another bag when you might need extra storage for a flea market trip or I interfaced the heck out of it (both interior and exterior fabrics) to get a well structured bag. You can see the structured bag results here on my blog… http://mintbasil.blogspot.com/2007/04/my-favorite-project-to-date.html

    There are some other entries with the floppy versions too. I can’t wait to continue reading!