Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sewing a Suitcase

I spent the last two Sunday afternoons taking a suitcase sewing class at Hart's Fabric here in Santa Cruz. Besides selling a great selection of fabric, notions, and sewing machines, Hart's offers some really fun classes. Our class used the Weekender Travel Bag pattern by Amy Butler.

Amy Butler Weekender Bag
Why sew a suitcase, you may ask? After all, paper bags have worked just fine for me for the last 15 years. I was asking myself that same question as I was crawling around on the floor cutting out the 46 pattern pieces required for this project. Forty. Six. That's without optional interior pockets or bias strips for piping. It felt like one heck of a lot of pattern pieces.

I added two interior pockets to supplement the 4 exterior pockets. What can I say? I like pockets.
OK, technically the pattern has 7 pieces (3 of which you draft yourself). But some of them you cut out 10 times, so it all adds up.

There were 4 students, including yours truly and my best sewing buddy, Jessica. Katrina was our ever-patient and capable teacher. Some of the class had never inserted a zipper before. One student was a total bag pro with her own business on Etsy. Somehow Katrina kept us all moving along together, and I think each of us had fun and felt like we learned something new.

Diligent students hard at work
Adding a nifty secret interior pocket with zipper
So why not just follow the pattern on my own rather than take a class? I mean, besides the fun of spending a couple of afternoons sewing with 4 creative and very entertaining ladies?
  1. While I probably could have figured out the pattern instructions myself, with careful reading and many cups of coffee, it was really great to have Katrina walking us through construction. This sucker is one of the more complicated things I've ever sewn.
  2. Technique: it's not just what you do, it's how you do it. While the individual steps of the instructions more or less made sense, there were times when I was sewing through so many layers of peltex, interfacing and home dec fabric that I could barely force the bag under my presser foot. By the end of the second evening sewing I felt like I'd been wrestling an angry anaconda. I probably should have clubbed the sucker before trying to jam it through my feed dogs. There were a few moments there when, if left alone, I would have given up. But Katrina petted my head and told me it would all be OK. And she was right! By the end of the evening, I had what actually looked like a suitcase, plus I have the experience to tackle another project like this in the future.
  3. It was fascinating to see what fabrics the other students had chosen and how much difference that made in the look of the finished bag. From Mod to Zen we had everything covered, and all of the combinations were dy-no-mite.
  4. Katrina got me to think about a lot of out-of-the-pattern-box options I wouldn't otherwise have been bright enough to consider. Internal pockets. Little feet on the bottom of the bag to protect it from dirty floors and wet sidewalks. D-rings to allow you to snap on a shoulder strap when you want to. Using contrasting fabric for exterior pockets. A pop of color for piping. Oilcloth for the bottom of the suitcase. The possibilities are infinite!
Michele was our honors student. She has a business called blackcap bags. Check her out. She has an artist's eye for color and pattern, and, having seen her make a suitcase, I can attest that her creations are meticulously crafted.
This lady know how to sew a suitcase!
Half done. Well, the outsides anyway...
The whole experience was kind of like childbirth. There's a lot of structure to this suitcase and it's an awkward shape to manipulate through a narrow channel. The process required both physical and mental strength. There were moments that were painful and terrifying along with intervals of creative fulfillment.
Still needs lining, but not looking too bad from the outside!
Now that the suitcase has been brought forth and I'm playing with it's little zippers and pockets and everything, the painful memories are fading. I'm beginning to think that maybe, someday, I'd give him a little sister. Maybe something in a pretty floral print....

Michele's masterpiece
My full pattern review is here.


  1. My gosh! what kind of needles did you have to use for that masterpiece?
    It looks great, and since you like a challenge, you probably WILL do it again.

    1. A jeans needle did the trick. Or at least, it didn't break....