Choosing fabric for a bag is always a careful balance between form and function. With functionality being key! Assessing the level of use the bag will endure over its lifetime is critical in determining the right type of fabric. You can begin to determine this by asking yourself, when will the bag be used? What will it carry? Is it for day or evening? Is it for a grownup, teenager or child? Once the functionality question is answered, then it is time to consider weight.
Generally speaking, fabric falls into a couple of main categories, apparel weight, quilt weight and home décor or upholstery weight. Bags are unlike clothes though, and as such, you can mix and match weights from various categories, keeping in mind of course overall function.
Most of the bags that I make are for day and evening use. As such, I do layer interfacing and linings for structure and try to find a mid-weight fabric that will support all that I am carrying around. To that end, it is time for the fun stuff: color, texture and pattern!
Pattern or solid? Bold color or neutral? Fabric or leather? What about mixing it up and combining leather with fabric or a print and solid with a neon strap? Just consider the possibilities……..
MY FAVORITE BAG-MAKING FABRICS
Nothing beats the durability of a genuine leather bag. The leather doesn’t even have to be new. Thrift stores, eBay, even your own closet likely offer a plethora of options. Most conventional home sewing machines, fitted with a leather needle and a teflon foot can handle leather up to about 3-ounce weight. Thrift stores and eBay are my go-to sources for purchasing leather.
Decorator Weight is a bit of a deceptive term as it encompasses fabric that is suitable for upholstery as well as drapery and pillow weight fabric. So, there are as many options here as there are fabrics. Somewhere in the mid-weight is likely best. What can your machine handle? The bags above were created from a variety of weights. The heavier weight fabric would be great for bags that have fewer seam lines and therefore fewer bulky layers to stitch through.
To me, Harris Tweed is the standard. It is gorgeous, drapes beautifully, feels sumptuous and the depth of color is unparralled. However, true Harris Tweed is expensive- and if that isn’t enough, the shipping (from the UK) adds even more. So, a conventional tweed looks pretty great in comparison. Fortunately, tweed is found in all sorts of fabric stores at any price point and in old clothes too. (Carbon footprint reminder!)
Canvas Fabric is generally inexpensive, sturdy, easy to find and available in color and pattern. The weight is perfect for so many bag shapes. It is truly ideal and such a great substrate to begin with.
Hands down, Robert Kaufman Essex Linen is one of my favorite bag making fabrics. It is truly beautiful and available in so many colors. Though at the lighter weight for bag making, adding layers of interfacing and/or interlining or even quilting goes a long way toward adding shape and body.
The featured bags are projects from my new book, Sew Bags: The Practical Guide to Making Purses, Totes, Clutches & More; 13 Skill-Building Projects, available at book stores nationwide.
What are your favorite fabrics to make bags out of?