Brenda Miller’s Bag Sewing Tips!


girlfriend bag pinkHave you thought about making a quilted or fabric bag but don’t know where to begin? How do you create a bag that looks like something you’d really want to carry? Canadian quilter Brenda Miller of Among Brenda’s Quilts and Bags is here with 12 Tips for Bag Makers!


Do you plan on sewing a bag? Here are some basic questions you should ask along with tips that will help you create the perfect bag.

1. Pick the right pattern with your experience level in mind. Look for patterns that give you clues on their degree of difficulty. Are they rated beginner, intermediate or advanced? Check the notions requirements. Is the pattern written for use with rotary cutting tools or is it written like a sewing pattern with paper pattern pieces? If you don’t have experience with rotary cutting tools find an online tutorial or class to familiarize you with the technique. If you are not sure if the investment in rotary tools is for you, borrow a friend’s tools to try them out. Better yet, get someone to show you how to use them safely.

Girlfriend Bag

2. Buying the correct type of fabric is crucial. If the pattern calls for quilting weight cotton cutting up your old blue jeans is not a good choice. Keep in mind that there are multiple layers of seams in a bag. Using denim, canvas or other decorator fabrics might seem like a good idea from the perspective of wear but will be ultra frustrating if you don’t own an industrial weight sewing machine.

3. What about the hardware that’s being used in the bag you’d like to make? Is this something you’ll be able to locate easily? If you can’t find it, that will put the brakes on your project pretty fast. Some pattern designers offer kits to go with each bag.

Around the Block hardware close up4. Follow the notions requirements, especially when it comes to battings and stabilizers. Your designer knows exactly what type of batting, interfacing or foam stabilizer is best for the bag design. Trust her to steer you in the right direction. If you are unsure of brand names or substitutions contact the designer and ask for advice.

5. Make sure your sewing machine is up to the task. Again think about multiple layers of sewing. Can your machine sew through a thick seam? Might you require a walking foot to move the layers evenly? Tools like the Jean-a-ma-jig help to get your seam started on thick seams. Sewing slowly with a looser tension and longer stitch length is also helpful when sewing multiple layers.

Essentials Bag6. Choose your pattern design wisely. You’ll be investing your time and money on this bag so take a moment to find the perfect purse pattern for your needs – something that will become your best friend for at least a season. Take note of the size of the bag and compare it to a bag you already like. Will the size and shape of the bag be suitable for your size and shape? What purpose would you like your bag to have? How many pockets will you need? A bag is fashion with function not just fashion.

7. Does your pattern have lots of illustrations or photographs? The more visual aids the better. Check the font size inside the pattern:  is it user friendly? Remember you might have to ask permission before you peak inside the pattern at your local shop.

8. Don’t buy a pattern and think you can change the size easily. Resizing a basic tote is simple enough but this kind of an undertaking is tricky to do on structured bag with lining. If you are a beginner – keep shopping for the right pattern.

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9. Time block before you start sewing. Budget at least an hour at a time to sew your bag. Bag sewing takes concentration. You’ll spend more time getting re-oriented to the project than sewing if you are interrupted frequently.

Around the Block10. Don’t read ahead in your pattern. Beginners find reading ahead especially discouraging as nothing makes much sense. As the steps unfold the directions are easy to follow. If you are really nervous about bag making, sew your bag first using stash fabrics. Then you can remake the bag when you are completely comfortable with the techniques and outcome.

11. Cloth bags do pick up dirt, especially if they are light colored. Scotchgard™ the fabric if desired to reduce laundering. When it is time to freshen up your bag, hand wash it in cold water and hang to dry. Press as required.

12. Remember to have fun. There’s pure joy to be had when making a functional and beautiful bag sewn with your own unique needs in mind!


Voyager Bag

Bonnie Browning and I spent some quality time with Brenda and her husband, Rob, during several Chinese buffets last fall – they are a delightful couple! Don’t miss her blog at




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Judy J

All good tips but #3 is missing.

Great catch Judy. We’ll get that fixed!

I have been making bags for about 10 years. Your tips were right on target! Reading those tips brought back many memories. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!

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