The Duffels Are Complete (Weekend Duffel, Part 5)

At long last, my Weekend Duffel Project has come to an end.

Actually, I finished them last weekend.

960x720_GOPR0016Photographs I make with the artificial lighting in my home always look terrible; I prefer natural light but am at work on weekdays.  This past Thursday, I took the bags to work and photographed them in the beautiful natural light my office gets.

The photos here were shot on a GoPro Hero4 Black action camera.  It’s not optimal for this purpose – the camera is meant for wide-angle shots and is not good at close-focus work.  But it was part of the bargain for shooting the photos on company time.

Click or tap on any of the photos for a closeup.


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End Panels

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More Outsides

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Inside Pockets

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Handle Grips

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Construction Notes

After cutting myself with the scissors, I put the yellow bag on hold because the next step was hand-sewing the inside lining in place.  Instead, I began to construct the blue bag to get it to the same level of completeness as the yellow bag, then finished the two together.

Stitching on the end panels is challenging due to the bulk and layers involved. To assist in getting an even stitch with the blue bag, I traced a stitching line for a 3/8 inch seam allowance and stitched on the line.  This turned out well.


I generally try to use pins sparingly when sewing nowadays, but this is one of the situations where I thought it best to just pin the daylights out of the thing rather than expect the end panels to ease nicely. I got one or two puckers on the seam, but it’s nothing that bothers me much.


Stitching the cotton webbing to attach the straps was pretty straightforward. I didn’t have to be precise, because the black thread disappears almost completely into the strap webbing.

To attach the bag handle grip, I used black thread in the top needle and yellow/blue thread in the bobbin. The black blends in with the webbing or velcro, and the yellow/blue matches the canvas. A bit of the black thread shows on the yellow bag canvas, so I increased the thread tension slightly on the blue bag for a better result.

To stiffen the bag base, I used plastic canvas of the type used for cross-stitch projects, as recommended by the Craftsy class. I took the additional step of cutting the corners round with a scissors before inserting the plastic into the bag base.



I had to do a few rounds of trimming the plastic canvas to size before it fit nicely into the base, then I handstitched the plastic inside the lining.

Handstitching the bag bases shut was a major hurdle for me.  I have very little experience with handsewing, and certainly not enough to really sew the lining inside neatly, without puckers or gaps.

The narrow ends of the lining are sewn shut with a “ladder stitch”, also known as a “slipstitch”. The Craftsy instructor demonstrates the stitch on-camera. But I felt I needed a basic primer on handstitching and so I turned to an article from Threads magazine, “Hand Stitches to Be Proud Of”, from the August/September 2001 issue.

The article was a good help in getting started with hand stitching and taught me how to properly start and end a stitch, how to knot the thread, really basic stuff that I should know by now but don’t. For handstitching there’s no substitute for practice, and so I did some test stitches on muslin scraps. The first two attempts ended up as disasters, but eventually I got some passable results.

At first, I wanted to practice until I had built up my skills. But the evening I decided to work on my income taxes rather than practice my handstitches was a clue.  I decided then to just finish off the bags and accept whatever result I produce.

The slipstitch, when done correctly, isn’t visible.  Mine had a few gaps in the stitching because the stitches were spaced a bit far apart and the thread tension was a bit loose.  Also the corners turned out pretty mushy because outer canvas seam allowances got in the way of the lining stitches. I didn’t trim the seam allowances all the way down, partly because I was concerned about blowing out the corner stitching and partly because I was wary of the sharp scissors that bit me the first time.

Scotch Gard

The bright colors of the bags makes them prime targets for dirt and stains. In fact, while bringing the bags back home from work, I bumped the yellow bag into my front door and got a big dirt stain on it. I managed to scrub most of it out with a toothbrush and diluted laundry detergent, but the message was clear.

I got the idea for using Scotch Gard from one of my fabric books, suggesting it for cotton canvas. I’m not big on Scotch Gard because this stuff has to be both (a) toxic, and (b) terrible for the environment. I suppose I could wax the canvas instead; waxed canvas bags and garments seem to be all the rage these days. But I don’t want to compromise the bright pop of the colors by dulling them down with a wax sheen.

So, to hell with the environment. I bought a can of Scotch Gard at the fabric store while it was on sale, and today I sprayed the outer canvas with the first of two coats. Fortunately the canvas pigments are color-fast; I tested it first on some scraps to be sure. I did the spraying outdoors, but even so the fumes from this stuff are pretty fierce.

Tomorrow I’ll put on the second coat of Scotch Gard and both bags will (finally) be ready for use.

Next Time

Pants, anyone?

The Very Best Way to Remove Blood Stains from your Sewing Project

I had hoped this article would be “project complete” for the Yellow Weekender duffel bag. I almost got there on my birthday.

That was before The Accident.

I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Let’s review the progress so far.

Finishing the Sides

The bag side panels have rounded decorative corners. The class instructor has you sew a basting stitch around the curve, 1/4 inch in from the edge, then fold/press around that.

That seemed a little loosey-goosey for me. Instead, I made a cardboard template from the pattern, with the 1/4 inch allowance removed, and pressed the corner pieces around that. I was amazed how remarkably well this worked; the canvas molded and shaped itself around the corners with the steam from the iron.


After attaching corners and strap pieces, both side panels were complete.

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The Main Zipper

The main zipper sandwiches between the outside facing and the inner lining and joins the outer sides together. Again this went well, even though the lumps from the zipper pull created less than perfectly-straight seams.


This is where the project starts to get difficult; many layers of fabric end up underneath the machine, and it gets difficult dealing with all the layers of bulk.  Also, the bag is now one large piece, making it difficult to handle it in a precise way.  The extension table on the Juki is a BIG help here in terms of stabilizing this big mass of fabric as I wrangle it through the machine, but having a dedicated work table with the machine sunk into the surface would be even better.

The End Panels

The end panels of the bag are yet more difficult. Not only are there bulky seams, but it’s sewing around a curve. Plus, the end panels have the linings turned inside out and the body of the bag is bundled burrito-style inside them. Finally, there’s an embedded loop for a D-ring that must be caught into the top of the seam.

In the photo below, I’ve traced in a line for a 3/8 inch seam allowance, and I’m using Wonder Clips at the top where the D-ring loop is caught at the main zipper point.  Pins were simply no longer sturdy enough to go through the bulk at those points.


The good news is that the Juki F600 is proving itself a capable workhorse that plows through multiple bulky layers of canvas, interfacing, lining, zippers, and even doubled-up webbing with almost no complaints.

At the top points with sandwiched webbing + zipper + canvas + lining + fleece + interfacing, it only occasionally refused to sink the needle through the fabric.


When that happened, I was not able to get the needle through myself by manually turning the handwheel – it felt like the needle was literally hitting a hard surface.  Backing up the item just a millimeter or two to allow the needle to sink somewhere else solved the problem.

Otherwise, the machine’s piercing power and feeding ability is really meeting the test on this project, and making it easy to work with.  The knee lift allows me to use both hands to position bulky seams under the presser foot, which is way handier than I could have imagined before having a machine equipped with one.

Though you baste the D-ring loops into place before attaching the bag ends, even so the end panel seam is treacherous.  I had to twice reposition one of the D-ring loops to get it centered with the zipper pull.  When I stitched on the end panel, the loop missed getting caught in the seam.  How on Earth did that happen?


To fix it, I had to rip the seam at top, cut a new loop of webbing, reposition and restitch the end panel seam. I deliberately cut the new loop an inch longer than the pattern directions, basted the loop shut with a zigazag, and allowed it to extend past the end of the seam allowance as I restitched the end seam.  Then I trimmed the loop flush against the seam allowance.  I may just do it this way from the start on the second duffel bag.


The other D-ring loop suffered from a related problem; the end panel missed getting caught in the seam allowance at top, allowing the end of the zipper facing and some of the interfacing to “leak out” at the seam.


Again, the solution was to stitch over the same seam line with a slightly wider seam allowance.


The D-ring loops ended up slightly off-center, but at this point I reassured myself Perfect is the Enemy of Good.

The Bag Base

The base of the bag goes on at this point.  After stitching the base, you end up with several three-way corners, where each seam leading into the corner has several layers of canvas and interfacing.  If there was ever a challenge to getting a pointy corner to turn out, here it is.

I got out the sharpest pair of scissors in my notions chest – my Gingher Knife-edge Tailor’s Scissors.  I bought these after hearing Kenneth D. King extol their virtues – and explain their features – in his Craftsy Class “The Carefree Fly-Front Coat“.  They really are truly sharp scissors that, like the Juki, have no problems at all going through several layers of canvas, lining and interfacing.

As I trimmed a corner while forcing through the fabric way harder than I needed to, the scissors completed the cut, and my excessive force carried them right into my left hand, where they snipped right into my left index finger.

I’ll spare you the graphic depiction except to say the scissors are very sharp and with such a precise cut, blood started flowing immediately.  After applying pressure and bandaging the cut, I discovered that the lining of the bag had been stained by blood.

The bag was never intended to be washed. I deliberately chose not to pre-shrink the outer canvas at the start, because I had just enough canvas in the primary colors (yellow, blue) and didn’t want to risk not having enough.  So laundering the bag at this point has a real risk of ruining the bag.  Similarly, dry-cleaning is likely not an option because the bag has an inner zipper made from nylon, which apparently can get dissolved by dry-cleaning solvents.


Spot-removing the stains with concentrated laundry detergent (above) and a toothbrush was only partially successful.  Using my remaining fingers, I Googled and learned that hydrogen peroxide is effective against fresh blood stains that have not had time to set.

And yes, it was remarkably effective. The hydrogen peroxide took out the blood stains without bleaching the fabric.  You can see a trace of a stain just above the middle pocket, but that is due to the laundry detergent.  I think I can spot-remove the detergent with plain water without immersing the whole bag. But I’m also thinking that once again, Perfect is the Enemy of Good.


Where next? The bottom lining must be attached, then the outer straps must be cut and attached, then finally the bag base is inserted and handsewn shut.  It truly is close to completion, and it looks really sharp.

But this project also been way more work than I initially expected.


A Birthday Grab Bag

Today being my birthday, I decided to take the day off from work to spend time on my sewing and blogging.

I had to share the unexpected gift I received from my partner’s mom, Judy.  She did quite a lot of sewing back in the ’70s, on her mechanical Bernina (which is still in fine working condition today and is in use by her grandchildren). She had some vintage menswear patterns she’s no longer likely to use, so she passed them down to me as a very kind birthday gift.


Check out these lovely Simplicity patterns (click/tap for supersize versions):

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All jokes about the Bruce Jenner outfit aside, the other swimsuit patterns in Simplicity 5046 would look quite contemporary if made now, especially views 1 and 3.  The ties in Simplicity 9400 are wider than Montana, and I probably won’t make this pattern for my upcoming Tie project because I’m not sure the “E-Z” approach is going to lead to a nice-looking result.  Still, it’ll be fun to study the pattern to see how they went about constructing it.

Simplicity 6693 looks like it could be a winner; I haven’t thought about making a western-style shirt before, but this one has some nice details including an embroidery transfer sheet.  I’m curious to see how embroidery was done before we had machines that stitch out a fully-baked design at the push of a button. I have some cuts of Chambray fabric that I’ve been storing for a future project, so some of those might go towards this pattern.

Mr. Knit ‘n’ Fit

I also got some sweater patterns, which look like a real treat.

IMG_0039I had sort of thought about making a project with sweater knits, and I was impressed by MainelyDad’s recent experience making his Phony Missoni sweaters at his blog, The Japanese Pattern Challenge.  So maybe now I have some inspiration to make my own sweater!  The raglan-style sweaters look the most interesting.

Stretch & Sew

If that weren’t enough in the way of sweater patterns, I also got two vintage Stretch & Sew patterns along with a full instructional guide to the Stretch & Sew technique.

From what I gather, Stretch & Sew was a popular pattern brand in the 70s that specialized in knitwear.  Ann Person developed her own techniques for sewing knit garments on a conventional sewing machine – in the days when zig-zag machines were less common, and before sergers were available to home sewers.

The centerpiece of Person’s technique was to use a longer-than-normal straight stitch, and to stretch the knit fabric as it went through the machine.  After the fabric recovered from the stretch, the stitching also had some “give” in it to stretch along with the fabric when the garment was worn.

IMG_0028I got two patterns, a sweater pattern with set-in sleeves and a dress shirt pattern.  The sweater pattern also has design variations to sew it up as a cardigan.  I’m not sure if the dress shirt pattern uses knits or if it is in fact for wovens.  The pattern instructions are not definitive on this matter; the yardage chart has a note about extra fabric needed for bias collars, but the instructions contain fabric care advice for knits.  Clearly a muslin is in order to sort this out.

(Update: The front of the envelope says “This pattern designed exclusively for knit fabrics”.  A dress shirt pattern for knits?  This sounds like a sewing adventure in the making.)


Instructional Handouts

One thing I have heard from Judy is that we have it good in the age of the internet when it comes to sewing instruction; in her heyday, she got a lot of her sewing knowledge from pamphlets and photocopied handouts. She included some period instructional materials that are fun to leaf through.

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I also got a really nice dictionary of fabric and textile terms. IMG_0038 IMG_0037

All this stuff is fascinating from a historical perspective, as well as being instructional and useful.  What fun!

Next Time

I’l pick up on the Weekend Duffel project.  Major progress to report.